While the Pittsburgh Steelers look to get some possible first-opportunity contributions from two of their rookie draft picks next week, one May selection is unlikely to do so again in a black and gold uniform.
Former fifth-round offensive lineman Wesley Johnson was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets in order to replace Brian Winters on their roster, who was placed on injured reserve.
The rookie did not dress for any of the five games on which he was part of the roster. He was released late last week in order to make room for the signing of safety Ross Ventrone from the practice squad.
Ventrone had to be called up when the Steelers learned that they would be without Shamarko Thomas, who has become one of the team’s best special teams players. Ventrone won his spot on the practice squad with his special teams work during the preseason.
Meanwhile, Johnson—primarily a left tackle in college—played only center for the Steelers during the preseason, though he moved around during training camp. The team chose to release him over second-year former undrafted free agent guard Chris Hubbard, who saw some playing time in a blowout victory against the Carolina Panthers.
The Steelers now have eight linemen on the roster, and it’s unclear whether or not they will look to add another once Thomas is healthy.
They did sign Alejandro Villanueva to the practice squad, though little is known about his development since joining the team.
Johnson became a bit of a fan favorite for many Steelers fans, who were already viewing him as a possible future replacement for Ramon Foster at left guard—despite the fact that that ignores Hubbard’s element in the equation.
While Johnson did show some quality tape during the preseason, which I myself have covered, it’s also necessary to keep perspective.
When Johnson was given the opportunity to start the preseason finale against the Panthers, he played every snap of the game, and it was easily his worst. He got exposed when asked to play against a higher level of competition, since the majority of his previous snaps came against third-string players.
He struggled in particular in pass protection, where he gave up two sacks. Obviously, that doesn’t define either his preseason, nor his potential, which is why the Steelers carried him on the 53-man roster in the first place.
But it makes little sense to exaggerate the impact of a personnel loss such as this, which just about every team has faced at some point or another. These are the risks of making in-season roster moves to account for injury.
Johnson was an interesting late-round prospect with clear limitations. His extensive versatility made him appealing, and it wouldn’t be fair to deny that he had potential. I liked him as well. But losing him isn’t going to cost a Super Bowl, and a ninth lineman without a helmet is not as valuable as a special teamer that can save a return touchdown.