Earlier in the offseason the Pittsburgh Steelers signed wide receiver Johnny Holton following him being waived by the Philadelphia Eagles. At the start of this year’s training camp, however, Holton missed a lot of practice time due to a hamstring injury. Fortunately for him, he was able to get over that injury in time to play in the Steelers preseason opener Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did Holton play, he provided the game’s longest play from scrimmage, a 59-yard gain after a short reception.
Holton also had one other catch Friday night good for 10 yards in addition to drawing a defensive pass interference penalty good for another 27 yards. Oh, he also returned two kickoffs Friday night for a total of 45 yards in addition to registering one assisted tackle on special teams.
During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked to disclose how aware he was of Holton prior to the team signing him back in May.
“Very, very,” Tomlin said. “He has NFL resume in tape.”
Holton, who originally entered the NFL with the Oakland Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, indeed does already have some limited NFL playing time on tape. In his 2016 rookie season with the Raiders, Holton registered just 2 receptions for 34 yards in the 51 total offensive snaps that he played. He did, however, play 137 special team snaps as a rookie and ended the 2016 season with 12 total special teams tackles, the second-most on the team.
In his 2017 season with the Raiders, Holton registered another 9 receptions for 218 yards and 3 touchdowns in 230 total offensive snaps played. He also logged another 187 special team snaps in his second season and contributed 5 tackles, which tied him for the team high.
Last season, Holton spent most of the year on the Raiders practice squad. He did, however, get promoted to the Raiders 53-man roster for one game in November but logged just 5 offensive snaps in that contest and finished without any catches. He also logged 5 special teams snaps in that one game but failed to register any tackles.
While it doesn’t appear as though Holton has returned any kickoffs thus far during his NFL career, he did do a lot of that in college. In his two seasons of college football at Cincinnati, Holton returned 45 kickoffs for 942 yards. Also, in case you’re curious, at his 2016 pro day Holton reportedly measured in at 6005, 190-pounds and ran his 40-yard dash in 4.42-seconds.
This past January, the Eagles signed Holton to a futures contract but waived him not long after the NFL draft took place. The Steelers quickly signed him off the street. During an offseason practice interview, Holton discussed the role he played during his previous time spent on the roster of the Raiders.
“My role with the Raiders was pretty much a ‘gunner,’” Holton said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “And on other special teams. And just a vertical route runner, too.”
As our own Daniel Valente pointed out in a May post, Holton can essentially be described as a younger version of former Steelers wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with a lot less pedigree. Heyward-Bey, who the team chose not to re-sign this past offseason, was a backup deep threat for the Steelers for the last five season and a key contributor on special teams. While the former first-round draft pick of the Raiders only managed to catch 33 passes for 517 yards and 4 touchdowns in the five seasons that he spent in Pittsburgh, he did contribute 13 total tackles on special teams. He also served as a veteran leader to the wide receivers in the locker room.
Now that Holton has one nice preseason showing with the Steelers under his belt you can probably count on him get another long look in the team’s second preseason game Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field. An even better showing in his second time in a Steelers uniform under the stadium lights is sure to result in Tomlin being even more aware of him than he already is and that could ultimately result in the wide receiver landing a spot on this year’s 53-man roster to start the regular season.