The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Buddy Johnson will be the Steelers’ top buck linebacker in 2022.
Explanation: Outside of the first round, Buddy Johnson is the earliest the Steelers have selected an inside linebacker in the draft since 2012, coming to the team via the fourth round. With Devin Bush in place at the mack, Vince Williams and Robert Spillane are set to command the buck position in 2021. But Williams may be in his last season, and Johnson could be ready to compete by this time next year.
Johnson fits the bill for what the Steelers do at buck linebacker. The beauty is that it has increasingly become something less than a full-time position. Vince Williams, for example, would typically see about 700-800 snaps per season, primarily as a sixth defensive back comes on the field for obvious passing situations.
The Texas A&M product has the skill set to handle what would be asked of him if given the time to grow into a pro defensive system and fine-tune a couple of his weaknesses. He does have the athleticism to get to where he needs to be.
It seems quite likely at this point that Williams is in his final season and will retire in 2022, perhaps moving into a coaching capacity soon after. As for Spillane, who will be a restricted free agent, a lot of things can happen between now and next September. They may not even tender him a deal.
First and foremost, it would be a good problem to have if the Steelers end up with too many viable candidates to start at the buck. Johnson has a long way to go before he proves that. He is really just getting started with literally one rookie minicamp practice under his belt.
But at least one of Williams or Spillane is still going to be here next year, and one of them will be the starter. They are the ones with the experience, and the tangible success running the defense. 2023 might be a more realistic target, at which point Williams would be 33, and Spillane would be an unrestricted free agent.