Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: ILB Buddy Johnson
Stock Value: Purchased
Reasoning: The Steelers used their second of two draft picks in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select inside linebacker Buddy Johnson out of Texas A&M.
There was a point not so long ago where it looks like the Steelers’ depth chart would consist of Devin Bush and Robert Spillane coming off of knee injuries(the former a torn ACL), flanked by Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert, and Miles Killebrew.
That is not a particularly inspiring group, all things considered, even if it includes a blue-chip name in Bush. Pittsburgh managed to fill out the depth chart substantially since then. Re-signing Vince Williams was a major component of that, but the selection of Buddy Johnson is an intriguing piece for the future.
While Johnson is going to come in as a ready-made special teams player, he certainly possesses starting potential in the buck role in the Steelers’ scheme down the line. Other than Bush and Ryan Shazier, his fourth-round selection marks the earliest the team has addressed the position in the draft since Sean Spence in the third round back in 2012.
He does come to Pittsburgh with some question marks — his work in coverage has certainly been criticized, and is something that he has already expressed an awareness of as an area that must be improved — but he is a physical and athletic player with that proverbial ‘upside’ you always hear about at this point in most players’ careers.
It’s difficult to divine exactly how his career is going to play out, but his addition has to make you feel better about the depth chart. While Robert Spillane (or Vince Williams) already makes a strong number three, we saw last year how easily you might wind up needing a fourth, and that fourth could have either been an oft-injured late-round pick or a pair of quasi-safeties.
With Williams nearing the end of his career, quite possibly in his final season, Johnson feels like a fitting candidate to serve as successor to the buck role. He’ll have to fight it out with Spillane, and perhaps others by this time next year, but he’ll have time to state his case.