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: Up
Reasoning: The second-year inside linebacker has looked ready to take a step forward going into the 2022 season, based on very early observations from reporters after one week of OTA practices.
The Steelers made sure to bring a lot of inside linebackers with them into the 2021 season. Even following the surprising retirement of Vince Williams just before training camp, they made a big addition by acquiring Joe Schobert via trade.
That move, in part, ensured that then-rookie inside linebacker Buddy Johnson would spend most of his time during the season before he was injured serving as a healthy scratch. But he is looking to move up the depth chart in year two.
That process may have already started last year. Late in the season, when injuries were mounting, Johnson did get a handful of in-game snaps, and after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged that there was an opportunity before him to play more.
Unfortunately, that happened to coincide with a foot injury that proved to be a lingering one that shelved him for the remainder of the season. Now fully healthy once again, he is looking like the sort of player they thought they were drafting—though that’s much easier to do in light-work OTA sessions than it is trying to tackle Nick Chubb while evading Wyatt Teller and Joel Bitonio.
Still, spring is a time for optimism, and there’s no sense in poopooing the few things that we do hear this time of year. Reporters such as Mark Kaboly are painting the Texas A&M product as the run-thumper that he was scouted as, and given the performance of the run defense last season, that’s a good window of opportunity for him to get on the field, even if in situational work.
At the moment, the Steelers are intending to start Devin Bush and Myles Jack at linebacker, the latter replacing Schobert, having been signed to a two-year, $16 million contract this offseason as a free agent. Bush is coming off of an extremely disappointing third season in which he looked lost and uncomfortable less than a year back from a torn ACL.