With the 140th pick of the 2021 NFL Draft (35th in the fourth round), the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Texas A&M inside linebacker Devodrick “Buddy” Johnson. It is the second consecutive pick for the team from the Aggies, after taking teammate Dan Moore Jr. (offensive tackle) 12 picks earlier. Here is an introduction to the Steelers’ new linebacker.
Like Texas A&M and now Pittsburgh teammate Dan Moore Jr., Buddy Johnson is a Texas resident, hailing from Dallas and staying in-state to compete for the Aggies. Johnson’s high school career saw him fill a swiss army role for Kimball High School in Dallas for two years, where he was listed at quarterback and free safety, but also spent time as a linebacker and catching passes.
Johnson was recruited primarily as a three-star linebacker, despite also profiling as a dual-threat QB. He received offers from over 20 schools, and made official visits to Baylor and Illinois as well as Texas A&M. Among his other offers were Missouri, Mississippi State, Oklahoma State, Purdue, and Texas Tech.
HIS TIME IN COLLEGE
Johnson saw the field immediately as a backup in 2017 during his true freshman season. Johnson appeared in 12 games, ranking 16th on the team in tackles and tied for fourth in QB hits. A&M went 7-6 that season, losing in the Belk Bowl.
Johnson remained a backup as a sophomore in 2018, when Texas A&M went 9-4 and won the Gator Bowl in the first year under head coach Jimbo Fisher. Johnson played in 12 of the team’s 13 games, climbing to 12th on the roster in tackles, and eighth in tackles for a loss.
The first chance to start for Johnson came in the 2019 season, when he was part of the lineup at linebacker for all 13 games of an 8-5 season culminating in a Gator Bowl victory. Johnson was the team’s leading tackler, and ranked third on the team in tackles for a loss. He was selected the program’s winner of the Defensive Playmaker and Strength Awards.
Johnson closed his career by starting all 10 games during a shortened 2020 season, as A&M went 9-1 and won the Orange Bowl. He was tied for 31st in the country and led the Aggies in tackles, and also led the team in tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. Johnson was second on the team in sacks, and was one of only two Texas A&M players to record a sack, interception, pass breakup, and forced fumble during the season.
Johnson began the season by appearing on the Nagurski (best defensive player) and Butkus (best linebacker) Award Watch Lists. He made the cut to become a semifinalist for the Butkus Award.
BY THE NUMBERS
Johnson appeared in 47 of a possible 49 games during his Texas A&M career, spending two years as a backup and starting his final 23 games as a two-year starter at linebacker. Here are his stat lines by season:
2020 (10 games): 86 tackles (45 solo), 8.5 tackles for a loss, four sacks, one INT, four PD, two FF
2019 (13 games): 77 tackles (38 solo), 9.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one PD, one FF, one FR
2018 (12 games): 27 tackles (10 solo), five tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, one FR
2017 (12 games): 20 tackles (nine solo), 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack
Buddy Johnson was not a draft pick strongly linked to the Steelers in the lead-up to the 2021 NFL Draft, and Pittsburgh’s primary representatives at the Texas A&M Pro Day were there to scout teammate Dan Moore Jr. and the other offensive players from the Aggies. Pittsburgh had offensive coordinator Matt Canada and assistant OL coach Chris Morgan present at the event.
HIS PITTSBURGH FIT
Johnson is the first Steeler draft pick in the 2021 class who does not appear to have a strong chance to start as a rookie. The Steelers are set at inside linebacker with Devin Bush, Robert Spillane, and the re-signed Vince Williams occupying the top of the depth chart, and the team has star T.J. Watt and second-year Alex Highsmith taking up the two spots on the edge.
Johnson’s likeliest path to contributing is on special teams early in his career, while pushing Spillane for time at ILB, his position in school. While there is always a chance the team will give a fourth-round pick an opportunity to play into a starting role, Johnson for now is the first Steeler pick you can classify more as a depth piece than counted-on contributor.
Our Tyler Wise did a scouting report on Johnson right before the draft, identifying Johnson as a special teams player who shouldn’t be drafted until late on Day 3, or signed as an undrafted free agent.