The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 offseason practices concluded last week. Next up for the team is their annual training camp, which should get underway in the latter part of July. Ahead of training camp, we will preview the team’s 90-man roster three players at a time for you as part of a 30-post series. This Steelers 90-man roster preview that includes outlooks for each player goes alphabetically by last name to make it easy to follow along with.
The next three players we will preview today are Alex Highsmith, Anthony Johnson, and Buddy Johnson.
OLB Alex Highsmith — As a rookie in 2020, Highsmith, the Steelers third round selection last year out of Charlotte, registered 48 total tackles, two sacks, an interception and a pass defensed. While five of his tackles resulted in lost yardage, just four of those came against the run. Highsmith, who took over as the team’s starter in Week 12 last season after starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree was lost to a knee injury, played reasonably well as a rookie. He showed a nice array of pass rush moves and counters during his 2020 rookie season and the experience he gained in his roughly 450 total defensive snaps should prove invaluable as he readies himself for his second NFL season.
Outlook: As a rookie, Highsmith played well. He did, however, disappear in the Steelers lone 2020 playoff game just like several other members of the team’s defense and he also suffered a minor injury during that contest as well. Highsmith is now scheduled to be the Steelers starting outside linebacker opposite T.J. Watt in 2021 and that means as huge second year jump should be expected. Highsmith needs to play better against the run in 2021 while continuing to get better as a pass rusher. Making teams pay in 2021 for giving Watt most of the protection attention needs to be paramount for Highsmith in his second season. The charlotte product showed the foundation of an emerging pass rusher as a rookie and in 2021 that needs to be taken to the next level and include more power rushes. At least eight sacks should be expected from Highsmith in 2021 and possibly even double digits if things go extremely well for him and he stays healthy.
WR Anthony Johnson — Johnson, a former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo, was with the Steelers last year during training camp. He was ultimately waived injured last august and after a short stay on the Steelers Reserve/Injured list he received an injury settlement. Johnson, however, was ultimately signed to the Steelers practice squad in late October and he remained on that unit the remainder of the 2020 season. The Steelers signed Johnson to Reserve/Futures contract this past January. Johnson originally entered the NFL in 2019 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent. After catching five passes for 57 yards during the 2019 preseason, Johnson was waived by the Buccaneers as part of their final round of cuts. He went on to spend most of the 2019 season with the Los Angeles Chargers on their practice squad.
Outlook: Johnson, just like a year ago, has a tough path when it comes to making the Steelers 53-man roster out of training camp and the preseason. Barring a few injuries happening ahead of Johnson on the Steelers wide receiver depth chart, it seems impossible that Johnson will survive the final rounds of roster cuts this summer. Johnson has been around for a while now, however, so perhaps a solid showing this summer might result in him once again being a member of the Steelers practice squad. That seems to be the best-case scenario for the former Buffalo wide receiver as we sit here in early July.
ILB Buddy Johnson — Johnson was selected by the Steelers in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft out of Texas A&M. During his four years at Texas A&M Johnson played in 41 games with over 20 starts, filling the stat sheet with 209 tackles and 23.5 tackles for a loss. He also registered 6.5 sacks and an interception during his college career. Johnson led Texas A&M in tackles each of the last two seasons and he posted good numbers at his Pro Day, showing explosiveness. He plays with a toughness and physicality that you would expect to see from a BUCK inside linebacker.
Outlook: Johnson should be able to make the Steelers 53-man roster this summer without issue as a backup inside linebacker. Assuming that’s what happens, Johnson should be a core special teams player for the Steelers right out of the chute and that means he’s likely to get a weekly gameday helmet. Barring multiple injuries hitting the Steelers inside linebacker depth chart during the 2021 season, we’re unlikely to see Johnson play much, if any, on the defensive side of the football as the rookie has a lot to learn before that happens.
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