Putting together a team is by no means solely nor primarily about what you are able to add to the group year in and year out. More than anything, it’s about the pieces that you are able to keep together for a period of years, acquiring talent and giving them the structure to develop together into a cohesive unit.
By and large, the Pittsburgh Steelers do this better than most, and they return among the most snaps from the 2019 season as they head into this year, but they have still lost some significant players from a year ago, some of whom have been with the team for a while, like Ramon Foster, Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and others.
Now that we’ve introduced you to all of the new faces that the Steelers have added to the team since the end of last season, it’s time to take stock of who is gone since then, and what their departure—whether by the team’s will or not—will impact their success or failure in 2020 and beyond.
Player: WR Johnny Holton
Years Played: 4 (1 in Pittsburgh)
Snaps Played: 266 (552 career)
The Steelers signed Johnny Holton last season as almost something of an afterthought to many. After all, it came in the same offseason in which they made their two biggest signings by per-year average of outside unrestricted free agents in team history, giving Steven Nelson a deal worth $8.5 million per season and Mark Barron $6 million per. Holton’s was for the minimum.
He wasn’t guaranteed a roster spot. In fact, he wasn’t on the initial 53-man roster. He did get signed to the practice squad though, and before the season opener he was promoted. Of course, that led to the Tuzar Skipper debacle that nearly saw to the indefinite ruin of the franchise after they saw a rookie outside linebacker get claimed off waivers who had five sacks in the preseason.
The long and short of it is that Holton ended up on the team as the number six receiver, but effectively the number five, and eventually number four. He was a special teams standout, basically the latest version of Darrius Heyward-Bey, a tall speedster who logged more snaps chasing down punts and kicks and the like than he did running routes.
Incredibly, by the end of the season, he was targeted 15 times with just three receptions, for a total of 21 yards. It wasn’t entirely his fault—in fact, Pro Football Reference doesn’t even credit him with a drop. His average depth of target was more than 25 yards down the field, and Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges were his quarterbacks.
The Steelers did not retain him after the 2019 season, however, and he remains a free agent. Essentially, he was replaced by Chase Claypool, a second-round pick who is expected to be a core special teams player. He is 6’4”, 234 pounds, and runs a low 4.4-second 40-yard dash.