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: OLB Tyree Johnson
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: The rookie undrafted free agent outside linebacker, according to Mark Kaboly, was sidelined or limited for the majority of the team’s spring drills due to a nagging injury, which sets him somewhat behind as he pushes for a roster spot later this month, especially when considering his injury history.
If a low-pedigreed rookie is going to have an injury issue during the offseason after the draft, then it’s better to have it during OTAs than during training camp. But it’s really preferable to avoid it altogether. Especially when you’re talking about a player like Tyree Johnson, who admits that injuries have affected his career opportunities.
It is once again time to trot out the well-worn adage: the best ability is availability. That goes for franchise quarterbacks and rookie college free agent linebackers alike. If you’re not going to be on the field, then you’re not going to keep your job, even if some will have a longer leash than others.
And a pattern of injuries has to be concerning at some level. Some people just have bad luck, and there’s little you can do about it, but it ultimately doesn’t matter whether it’s poor training habits or ill fortune when the end result is the same: you are unable to participate.
The Steelers don’t have the deepest outside linebacker room right now, with Derrek Tuszka and Genard Avery the frontrunners to serve as backups ahead of a pack that consists of Tuzar Skipper, T.D. Moultry, and Johnson.
In other words, there is a pretty obvious path toward a roster spot for a college free agent rookie to come in and impress. We have seen a number of outside linebackers earn a roster spot in this way. But it’s impossible if you’re on the sideline in street clothes.
The good news is that training camp hasn’t even started yet, and that’s where the on-field work really starts to matter. Johnson has plenty of time to make his push, make no mistake about that. But he has to stay healthy, and his history, both recent and long-term, suggests that’s not a sure thing.