This summer, there’s been a focus on Cameron Heyward, waiting to see if he’ll receive a contract extension before the season. There’s been a focus on Stephon Tuitt’s health and return. A focus on the nose tackle battle between Tyson Alualu and Daniel McCullers. The one man we haven’t spent any time talking about is second year defensive end Isaiah Buggs. And there’s reason to get excited about him in 2020.
A sixth round pick last season, Buggs logged only 75 defensive snaps. His production was expectedly light, three total tackles. Digging into his tape, he flashed more than the stats would indicate. He showed the traits that got him drafted. Good burst out of his stance, quick hands and loose hips, and ability to make an impact as a pass rusher.
Isaiah Buggs made the most of his seven snaps in Sunday's finale. For a rookie, he's an impressive technician. Shows ability to collapse and get skinny vs combo blocks (turn shoulder, drop knee) then disengage and find the ball. #Steelers https://t.co/8miD0cUpFJ pic.twitter.com/641zc110ku
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) January 3, 2020
— Alex Kozora (@Alex_Kozora) November 12, 2019
Getting to work with college coach Karl Dunbar has to be beneficial too. Now he enters his sophomore year, head no longer swimming like a typical wide-eyed rookie. A spring’s worth of offseason work and some preseason games sure would’ve been nice for him given how little he played as a rookie but Buggs has gotten a taste of the NFL and should be miles ahead of where he was a season ago.
The downside is the depth chart. Alualu getting shifted inside could help open the door for Buggs to see more playing time but the addition of Chris Wormley is likely to negate that. Now, it’s an open question of if Buggs will even dress on gameday. Will he leapfrog McCullers or is there a chance the team could make active all six of their defensive linemen? Either way, playing time figures to be scarce out of the gate and like last season, may require an injury for Buggs to see consistent snaps.
But Buggs rounds out some excellent depth behind the likes of Heyward, Tuitt, and Alualu. Wormley’s availability has been fleeting to start the year, battling multiple injuries already.
The longer-term look of the room is more promising to Buggs. Heyward, Wormley, Alualu, and McCullers are all set to be free agents after the season. Heyward is still likely to get extended and probably one of the remaining three return but 2021 might be the year for Buggs to earn a serious, rotational role. The talent is there. He’s just waiting for a better opportunity.