Sophomore Spotlight: Buddy Johnson

Buddy Johnson is trying to make Pittsburgh's 53-man roster this season
Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s time for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sophomore Spotlight Series. During this series we’ll be taking a look at Pittsburgh’s second year players to determine their standing with the team, what their role might be in 2022-23, and how big of an impact they can have in year two.

Buddy Johnson – Linebacker

2021-22 Season Review

The Pittsburgh Steelers selected Buddy Johnson in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Johnson had a quiet rookie year and played in just four games. In those games he played just six total defensive snaps but a little over half of the special teams snaps in those contests. Johnson was on the 53-man roster all of last season but spent most games on the team’s inactive list.

Buried on the depth chart it was certainly going to be hard for Johnson to crack the active gameday roster. With starters Joe Schobert and Devin Bush, special teams aces Ulysees Gilbert III and Marcus Allen, and the combination of the two Robert Spillane, Buddy Johnson was the odd man out. But the fact that he was kept on the roster for the full season was a tick in his favor.

Coming out of college Johnson was a good tackler, very good athlete, and decent defender against the run. But he didn’t play a lot in coverage, or seem to process the game quickly enough to blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage (LOS).

2022-23 Season Outlook

Entering the offseason Johnson was going to have an uphill battle ahead. Schobert was replaced by Myles Jack, but Bush, Spillane, Allen, and Gilbert all remained on the team. Additionally Pittsburgh drafted Mark Robinson in the seventh round of the 2022 NFL Draft. With Jack, Bush and Spillane locks I figured one of Allen/Gilbert were fighting for one spot, and one of Johnson/Robinson were fighting for another.

Injuries have hit Pittsburgh’s linebacker depth chart however. Ulysees Gilbert III was released with an injury settlement after landing on IR with a foot injury, and Marcus Allen has missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury. This left the door open for Buddy Johnson and Mark Robinson to potentially compete for a spot.

But Johnson appears to be on the outside looking in after the second preseason game. Buddy Johnson led Pittsburgh in tackles (7) and special teams snaps (20), and was second in defensive snaps (45) in the first preseason game. But after a nondescript performance he dropped to just 14 defensive snaps in the second preseason game. Mark Robinson had more than twice the number of defensive snaps (31) and had a few really nice plays.

Buddy Johnson has an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster at this point. Replacing Gilbert as a core special teamer might be his best case to make it. Johnson will need a strong outing in Pittsburgh’s last preseason game to make his case. Otherwise, the practice squad could be Buddy Johnson’s next home.

Snap counts courtesy of Steelers Depot.

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