After addressing their four largest needs on the offensive side of the ball over the course of their first four selections, the Pittsburgh Steelers made their first draft addition to the defensive side of the ball with their fourth-round compensatory pick. The team doubled down on Aggies in the round with inside linebacker Buddy Johnson.
A productive four-year college athlete, Johnson profiles as a buck linebacker who has exhibited signal-calling responsibilities while at Texas A&M. He joins a spot next to Devin Bush where the team already figures to have Vince Williams and Robert Spillane vying for playing time. So where does he see his skill set?
“I feel like I can do whatever my coach asks me to do,” he told reporters during his introductory conference call earlier this afternoon. “Stopping the run, stopping the pass. I know that this league, it’s changing, and it’s changing the linebackers. You have to be able to run and move. I look forward to being able to get out there and showcase my talents.”
To his credit, Johnson did post strong athletic metrics, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to a knack for coverage. He did grow more comfortable in his shoes over the course of his final collegiate season. His tested athleticism has not always been evident on tape, and he has work to do in terms of executing coverage concepts from the practice field to games.
I’m not sure that he is going to be someone whom the Steelers throw into the mix right away in terms of competing for playing time. In fact, I wouldn’t expect that. Both Williams and Spillane have starting experience in their system, so it wouldn’t really be necessary.
But Johnson possesses intriguing long-term traits if he can develop his game over the course of the next year or two, which may come in handy. Williams is in perhaps his final year, and Spillane will be an unrestricted free agent after this season as well.
Having strong inside linebacker play is one of the most fundamentally valuable aspects of a defense, in my opinion, even if it has seemed to have grown undervalued relative to team investment as the league has evolved more into a passing game, with priorities shifting to rush and coverage.
The latest addition to the depth chart has the athletic ability and frame to evolve into the sort of complete linebacker that teams need in this era of the NFL. I don’t know if he is there now. For the time being, he’ll be bringing his lunch pail and getting to work, making himself and the team better. That’s all we can ask for.