Justin Layne grew up in Cleveland in a family of Browns fans.
His hometown team bypassed the former Michigan State cornerback in the second round in favor of Greedy Williams. Layne – projected by some as a possible first-round pick – waited deep into the third round before finally getting a phone call.
From the Browns’ biggest rival.
“Where you? You in Cleveland, Ohio, tonight?” Mike Tomlin asked Layne on Friday night. “We shouldn’t have any problem getting you over here tomorrow at some point then, man. Are you ready to be a Pittsburgh Steeler?”
With that, going No. 83 overall after leaving MSU a year early, Layne’s professional future was set.
As for his family allegiances?
“My dad threw away all his Browns stuff. He already has all of his Steelers stuff on him right now,” Layne told reporters on a teleconference. “We are ready, we are switching it up. … We are taking all of the Browns stuff down right now.
“Be ready, I’m ready.”
Layne’s selection extended the Spartans’ streak in the NFL draft to 79 straight years, the third-longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision and going back to 1941. MSU is one of five schools to have at least one player taken each year since the modern draft began in 1967.
Layne joins Michigan linebacker Devin Bush Jr. in Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected Bush 10th overall on Thursday.
A number of mock drafts projected Layne as a second-round selection, with a few – including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. – projecting he could go in the late first round.
He did not get picked Thursday, and waited and watched a run on cornerbacks starting with the beginning of Friday night’s second round.
Ten corners went in front of him – Deandre Baker in the first round, seven in the second round and one in the third. That group included Central Michigan’s Sean Bunting to Tampa Bay at No. 39 overall. Michigan’s David Long went to the Los Angeles Rams four picks ahead of Layne.
“I expected to go in the second round, but it’s all good,” Layne said. “They are going to feel me, it’s all good.”
Steelers senior defensive assistant/secondary Teryl Austin told reporters he does not believe it is because of any issues with Layne’s game, and that he “didn’t think (Layne) would be around this long.”
“I’m not sure what the flaw is,” said Austin, the former Detroit Lions defensive coordinator. “There are a lot of good football players that probably got picked before him. I think it’s just a matter of flavor. And I think when we saw him sitting where he was, I’m very excited to have him.”
The 6-foot-2, 192-pound Layne impressed scouts at the NFL combine in February, and his stock built into a top-50 player by a number of draft experts after that performance.
Layne finished fifth for the Spartans last season with 72 tackles, including a team-high 15 pass breakups and an interception in 12 starts en route to second-team All-Big Ten honors. He started 26 games at cornerback in three seasons after making his debut at wide receiver as a true freshman in 2016. He finished his career with 130 tackles and three interceptions.
“When I first saw him, I thought he was really quick bodied, long arms, good ball skills, and very competitive,” Austin said. “I think that’s one thing that sticks out with him when you watch him. He’s competitive. He’s not afraid to throw it up in there. He’ll tackle. He’ll compete at the point of attack for a ball. So he’s got a lot of good things to work with.”
The Steelers have three cornerbacks, including starter Joe Haden along with backups Mike Hilton and Artie Burns, who can become free agents in 2020. They added former Kansas City cornerback Steven Nelson in the offseason.
NFL Network analyst Joel Klatt had rave reviews for Layne.
“I think this guy is a highly competitive, very sticky, comfortable, physical player,” Klatt said. “You’ve got to be that if you’re going to play for Mark Dantonio on that defense, in particular in the boundary, which he was most of the time. A lot of short side field for Justin Layne. But this is the type of guy that understands how to cover.”
Layne, who arrived at MSU as a 4-star receiver but quickly shifted to cornerback midseason as a true freshman in 2016, deemed himself “a football player at the end of the day.”
One who will be wearing black and gold instead of orange and brown. Something he thought might happen.
“I talked to the coaching staff, coach Tomlin a lot at the combine,” Layne said. “Even at my pre-draft visits, I kind of had a feeling and knew they were going to get me. I don’t know. It was just a feeling I had. It was in my dream and just what I felt. I felt like I was going to go against our rivals, and they are the rivals to the Browns.”
Layne’s first step will be making an impact in rookie minicamp in the coming weeks. He already has his new coach’s attention.
“I’m comfortable with his ball skills after watching him play and talking to people and being at his workout. And I’m comfortable with where he is,” Austin said. “And it’s just a matter of turning that into production at this level.”