Justin Layne 6’ 1 3/4” 192 lbs CB Michigan State #2 & #39
Justin Layne came to Michigan State in 2016 as a prospect who was an All-Ohio HS wide receiver with 11 TDs his senior year. While he was on the roster as a true freshman, he didn’t catch a pass his first 5 games so the coaches asked him if he could switch over to cornerback because of the lack of depth Michigan State had at the position. He agreed and started 5 of the teams last 7 games at cornerback. He cemented his position move against Northwestern with a pick that changed his future forever.
This wasn’t a great play. It was more of an ill-advised throw into the flat. Layne is in zone coverage with the short to intermediate right side of the field as his area. He just basically lets the outside receiver go past him (he has deep zone help) and reads the QB on the throw to the flat. Once the ball is in the air it is an easy pick six as the slot receiver has all his momentum going towards the sideline and can’t get back to disrupt the play. This play solidified the move to cornerback and propelled Layne into a career path that has him poised to be drafted into the NFL as a fairly high pick.
Since Layne has only been a cornerback for about 2 1⁄2 years it is amazing the rapid ascent he has achieved and how he is now viewed as an exceptional prospect. He is what teams look for in a boundary corner with fantastic height, great length and WR speed. This next play is an out and up corner route to the back of the end zone that is hard to defend without holding.
First he is on an island, and the QB is looking his way as soon as he gets the snap. Layne has an ILB to his left, but he still has to guard against the quick slant. He is up in the receiver’s grill to force him to the outside. The WR pushes him off and runs laterally then back up the field to the corner of the end zone. This is a 6’ 4” 225 lbs receiver that Layne had to stayed glued to, or it’s an easy score. This where his height, superior agility and 33” arms come into play. He is able stay with the receiver and knock down the pass. Most veteran NFL corners would have a tough time by themselves against this receiver on this play.
Layne is definitely an ascending talent who should get even better with NFL coaching. But how does he do as a tackler? He never played defense at all before 2016 and is now asked to make open field tackles on some very elusive and sometimes powerful players. On this play he shows how he is as a tackler. He likes to get low and take out the bottom half of the runner.
This is a compilation against three pretty big dudes. The first is against Penn State and 6’0” 234 lbs Saquon Barkley as he takes him down with a minimal gain. The second is against Notre Dame as the receiver runs him off the line in man coverage then tries to pick off the ILB leaving Layne all alone against Josh Adams (6’2” 225 lbs) who he keeps to a 3 yard gain and a sore thigh. In the last clip Layne is in zone coverage and keeps Simmie Cobbs 6’ 4” 220 lbs from attaining a first down. All of these are one on one tackles and done expertly well.
He doesn’t always have to tackle low on a player. It depends on the situation. In the open field the runner has a multitude of ways to avoid a tackler so the defender just has to square up and make a difficult tackle.
These two plays against Indiana are a good example. In the first play the Spartans are using a corner blitz that does nothing but let the little outside receiver get a free release on his drag route across the middle. Layne is in zone coverage so he steps up into the path of the receiver, breaks down into a good wide base, and makes a form tackle on a speedy, elusive receiver. On the second play Layne is again in zone coverage as the ball is dumped to the back out of the backfield. Layne is able to close ground quickly and (with help) force the RB out of bounds before the first down sticks.
Tackling is nice, but a cornerback is judged by how well he does in coverage especially around the goal line. Here is a play against Ohio State against a 6’ 4” 205 lbs receiver who Layne has in coverage one on one.
Remember that Layne came to the Spartans as a receiver and has decent hands. He is able on this play to keep the receiver at arm’s length, and when the ball is underthrown Layne is able to make a play on the ball despite the efforts of the receiver.
Again coverage is key so lets look at Layne against some other types of routes. We have seen Layne in zone coverage quite a bit, but where he really excels is in press man coverage where he can use his size, quickness and length to his advantage.
If there is one play clip you should watch to define the ability of Justin Layne it is the first play in this last GIF. Layne is in press man coverage against a speedy wideout on the boundary. On this play the receiver makes a great sprint like he is going down the sideline on a ‘9’ route but then crosses the face of Layne on a quick slant. Layne uses his great short area quickness to get back into the play. Watch his hips on the play. He opens up to the outside to run with the receiver. Then he has to snap his hips around the exact opposite way to get back into the play. He not only catches back up to the receiver, but his great length allows him to make a play on the ball without interfering. This play simulates exactly what all those drills at the Combine are trying to show. This was as good as you can humanly do it and reminded me of Marshon Lattimore from 2017 who was one of the best I ever saw and is almost 2” shorter than Layne. Now Lattimore was a little quicker than Layne, but considering that Layne is taller makes this very impressive.
The last play is of Layne in man coverage, and the receiver tries a double move which is poorly done. You see that Layne is really in better position to catch the ball than the receiver but does a poor job of securing the ball. This was a bad route and a bad read by the QB, but the ball was essentially dropped by the corner. So we know that Layne has room for improvement.
Layne is an ascending talent who I have a grade of a mid to high second round pick. He will at times look a bit lethargic, especially in run support, and he should have more interceptions than his 3 he attained at Michigan State. His talent is undeniable, and if he continues to work at his craft I could see a few Pro Bowls in this kid’s future.
There isn’t much buzz about this kid right now, but rest assured that NFL people know who he is. This is a Seattle Seahawks Draft pick if I ever saw one. The Seahawks have only 4 picks in 2019, and I can see them trading down in the first round and picking Layne up in the 2nd round. He is exactly what they look for in a corner, fast and tall with great length. If Seattle can’t trade down then this is #21 pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
If you like long press corners then this is your man. He has talent with upside with the right position coach.
What do you think?