Now that the 2021 season is over, bringing yet another year of disappointment, a fifth 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 season and into the offseason 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: Down
Reasoning: Just when it appeared the door was open for him to start playing, the rookie fourth-round draft pick suffered a season-ending foot injury.
The Steelers used their first four draft picks on offensive players. All of them became starters. Their next four draft picks all went to defense. Two of the four became meaningful contributors on defense, though one did not make the 53-man roster in Quincy Roche (who had 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and five tackles for loss for the Giants in 14 games, playing 401 snaps).
The other rookie defender was Buddy Johnson, the inside linebacker out of Texas A&M. He spent the majority of the year as a healthy scratch, but with Devin Bush struggling over the course of the season, and then injuries creeping up, the door opened for him to get on the field.
He even played six snaps against the Minnesota Vikings, all in base defense, three snaps with Bush on the field and three with Joe Schobert. These snaps came during the time that it looked to be a blowout, but he was pulled after the score got close again.
Still, after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin spoke positively of Johnson and more or less said that there would be an opportunity for him to carve out snaps going forward, but that the potential return at the time of Robert Spillane could factor in, as well.
It would all be moot, however, as Johnson suffered a foot injury during practice the next week, and he wouldn’t dress again. That was back in Week 15, even though he wasn’t officially moved to the Reserve/Injured List until January 7, which was the Friday before the finale (at which point it looked like their chances of making the postseason were very slim).
In spite of all of this, however, there is still an opportunity for Johnson to have a role in the defense next season. He pretty much fits the role, physically, of what they might be looking for in terms of a run defender, which is what they badly missed. In other words, they missed Vince Williams. He could be a base run defender if he puts in the work. But his prospects won’t put the Steelers off of investing in the position this offseason if the price is right for the right person.