Now that the regular season 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 have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season 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 reasoning. 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. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: ILB Buddy Johnson
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The rookie inside linebacker made his defensive NFL debut for the Steelers in their last game, and head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that there could be more, though he cautioned that the availability of Robert Spillane will affect his opportunities.
The Steelers used each of their top four draft picks back in April and May on the offensive side of the ball, which yielded four players who have started every game this year. Their next four draft picks were all defensive players, three of whom made the team, two of whom have been regular contributors. Buddy Johnson had not been one of them, but he may have an opportunity to contribute in December.
The Texas A&M product saw his first snaps on defense on Thursday against the Minnesota Vikings, at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, on the field for a total of six plays. That’s obviously not a lot, but it is notable that head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that he could continue to play more going forward.
Unfortunately for the rookie, he also made it pretty clear that veteran Robert Spillane is still ahead of him on the depth chart. Spillane has missed time due to injury, as well as due to COVID-19, though he is back from the latter, and Tomlin believes he could be back healthy enough to play next week.
If Spillane is indeed back, it’s not clear at all if Johnson will even dress for the game, let alone actually get on the field and play on defense, but Tomlin did call his opportunity part of the ‘turning over stones’ process as they look for alternative answers on their roster.
The run defense has been their biggest problem all year, and the inside linebackers have arguably been the biggest issue in the run defense. If they think Johnson could do anything to help in that capacity, then they will find a way to give him a helmet, I’m sure. If not, however, he’ll be back to being a healthy scratch as soon as Spillane is ready to get back out there, who likely would then start taking snaps away from the starters.