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New Faces 2020: WR Anthony Johnson

There isn’t much else to do while we sit here and wait for news about whether or not there will even be training camp, so it seems as good a time as any to bring back this series, in which we look to introduce some of the new players that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added to the mix since the end of the 2019 season.

The team added some notable pieces in free agency, which was important, because they didn’t have much to work with in terms of draft capital due to previous trades. They also made liberal use of the XFL’s closure, signing about as many players from there as the rest of the league combined. Even while claiming that they didn’t have a lot of roster room, they still signed a good number of rookie college free agents as well, enough that they had to release three players just to make room for them.

Before we wrap things up, we do have two more players to talk about, and they are some of the ‘oldest’ new faces to the Steelers’ roster. In fact, they were added to the team just days after the 2019 season ended, the first being wide receiver Anthony Johnson, yet another member of the big-and-tall club that the team has going on at the position.

Of the eight wide receivers who are currently on the 80-man roster (not including James Washington), six of them are at least 6’1”, with five of them, Johnson included, being 6’2”. Johnson is also the heaviest outside of rookie Chase Claypool, who is also the tallest, the former coming in at 220 pounds.

Johnson was a three-year starter at the University of Buffalo, an All-MAC selection in his final two seasons in 2017 and 2018. Over his final two seasons, he caught 133 passes for 2367 yards and 25 touchdowns, also averaging 17.8 yards per catch, showing that he could be a dynamic, explosive threat.

While it wasn’t enough to get him drafted, he was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a college free agent following the 2019 NFL Draft, or rather after receiving a rookie minicamp tryout invitation. He did not make the 53-man roster, nor did Tampa Bay sign him to their practice squad.

He did, however, sign on to the practice squad for the Los Angeles Chargers, where he spent the season, but the Chargers elected not to sign him to a futures contract when his practice squad deal had run up. Pittsburgh quickly turned around to sign him instead on January 8, and he has been on the roster since.

Despite his physical gifts—Jadeveon Clowney is among his three NFL-playing cousins—he will have an uphill battle looking to make the 53-man roster when the Steelers already have JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, Washington, and Claypool. In addition, Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain, another 6’2” wide receiver, return from a year ago. Amara Darboh and Saeed Blacknail join the 6’2” fraternity. The former is a former third-round pick who ended the 2019 season on the 53-man roster. Blacknail, a former Penn State receiver, was signed from the XFL.

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