ESPN's Mel Kiper: Justin Layne, T.J. Hockenson's teammate are 'instant-impact' rookies

The Detroit News
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. lists former Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne as one of his 15 "instant-impact" rookies in the draft class. Layne was selected in the third round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Former Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne probably had to wait a little longer than expected to hear his name called in the NFL Draft.

Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't think he'll have to wait nearly as long to play meaningful snaps with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The ESPN draft expert on Monday listed Layne, a third-round draft pick, as one of his 15 "instant-impact rookies" in the draft class.

The 6-foot-2 Layne, who left Michigan State a year early, was selected No. 83 overall (and two round after the Steelers plucked Michigan linebacker Devin Bush). He had 24 pass breakups during his career with the Spartans — including 15 last season — despite arriving in East Lansing as a receiver.

"I was surprised Layne lasted this far into the draft." Kiper writes. "I put him at No. 29 in my final mock draft, and I thought he'd go in the top 40. I love this fit in Pittsburgh, where the team brought in free agent Steven Nelson, and former first-rounder Artie Burns took a step back last season. The Steelers intercepted only eight passes in 2018, and Layne, a converted wide receiver, had 19 pass breakups over the past two seasons. Every team needs cornerback depth in this pass-happy era of the NFL."

Also making Kiper's list is Noah Fant, the other tight end from Iowa, who was selected No. 20 overall by the Denver Broncos — 12 picks after the Lions took his former teammate, T.J. Hockenson.

"It usually takes time for tight ends to adjust to the NFL, mostly because of their inability to block," Kiper writes. "But don't think of Fant as a traditional tight end. New offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello could use Fant in the slot as a true receiver, much like the Giants did with Evan Engram as a rookie in 2017, when he caught 64 passes and scored six touchdowns. Fant and Engram are similar athletically, though I don't expect Fant to get 115 targets in Year 1 like Engram did."