Under The Microscope: LB Buddy Johnson

A new mini-series for Steelers Depot this offseason. We’re taking a look at which Steelers are under the brightest lights this offseason. Players who need to have big years in make-or-break seasons. Our third article in the series today with LB Buddy Johnson.


At first blush, it may seem unusual to see a relatively high draft pick, second-year player like Buddy Johnson on this list. And similar to Anthony McFarland, Johnson’s play – good or bad – isn’t going to define the Steelers’ season. But on a personal level, it’s a big year for Johnson.

A relatively raw fourth round pick out of Texas A&M last season, Johnson’s rookie year went with a whimper. He logged just six defensive snaps and often spent his Sundays in street clothes, hampered by a knee injury late in the year. The most we saw of him came during the summer but even then, our impression was pretty mellow.

A fine camp for Johnson. Nothing that wow’d or disappointed. Johnson improved a bit versus the run throughout camp and played more aggressively and forceful downhill. His processing and positioning also seemed improved compared to where it was at Texas A&M. In coverage, it was ok…but we haven’t seen much in-game. I don’t have him down for a target this preseason. He didn’t play a defensive snap in the tune-up game against Detroit and has logged only 35 in total this season, thanks to the second-half defense barely seeing the field against the Eagles.

Johnson finished his rookie year with a pair of tackles, both solo, one in back-to-back weeks against the Ravens and Vikings. He enters Year Two as part of a crowded backup linebacker room. Myles Jack and – for now – Devin Bush enter as the starters. Behind them are a mix of veterans and new faces but all primary special teamers in Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, Ulysees Gilbert III, Mark Robinson, and Johnson. At most, Pittsburgh will carry five inside linebackers and with Jack and Bush locks, that leaves just three spots for five players. Robinson does feel destined for the practice squad but has a chance to make noise on special teams given his aggressive, big-hit ability,

Based on draft position and his youth, it might seem like Johnson should get another year on the roster. But for a guy who did virtually nothing his rookie year and was only a fourth round pick, he’s off scholarship. As our Kevin Colbert draft exercise proved, plenty of fourth round picks weren’t on the roster by their second year. That lists includes: Fred Gibson, Danny Farmer, Orien Harris, Thad Gibson, Doran Grant, Ryan McBean, Mathias Nkwenti, and Cameron Stephenson. Johnson’s roster spot is very much in danger and with a new GM making these decisions, even an internal hire like Omar Khan, Johnson needs to make big strides this summer. Or else he’ll be off the roster.

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