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NFL Network Boldly Picks Steelers LB Buddy Johnson As “Breakout Player” For 2022

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NFL Network Boldly Picks Steelers LB Buddy Johnson As “Breakout Player” For 2022

The Pittsburgh Steelers made significant changes to their roster during their off-season, including the linebacker position. Last season, that part of the defense struggled immensely in multiple facets of the game. As a result, the run defense was far worse than Steelers fans are accustomed to.

Joe Schobert was released after an underwhelming one season in Pittsburgh. Myles Jack was signed to a two-year, $16 million deal as a potential steal in free agency. Alongside Jack, the Steelers hope Devin Bush can find some form of consistency nearly two years removed from his torn ACL.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) lines up during the first half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Pittsburgh, Friday, Aug. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The depth beyond Bush and Jack remains a bit of an unknown, particularly the pecking order. Robert Spillane figures to be the primary backup, as the team has always been infatuated with his physicality. Part of that came from former defensive coordinator, Keith Butler though, and Spillane struggled when seeing extensive playing time in 2021. Special team guys Ulysees Gilbert III and Marcus Allen, 2022 seventh rounder Mark Robinson, and 2021 fourth rounder Buddy Johnson round out the group.

Recently, NFL Network‘s Adam Rank pointed out Johnson as his breakout player on the Steelers for the upcoming season:

“The 2021 fourth-round pick is currently buried on the depth chart behind the newly signed Myles Jack and Devin Bush. But Bush, whose defensive grade from Pro Football Focus ranked 58th among linebackers who played at least 50 percent of defensive snaps last season, has never quite lived up to the expectations set when Pittsburgh drafted him 10th overall in 2019. With Flores on this staff, I’m looking for the 23-year-old Johnson to flash, or at least get regular defensive snaps.”

The hiring of Brian Flores should have a positive impact on the defense as a whole, but specifically the linebackers. Johnson is one of these potential beneficiaries as Rank mentions, as he could see more action if Bush and Spillane fail to improve. A breakout from Johnson would be a welcomed addition, but the likelihood remains slim.

Steelers Brian Flores

Pittsburgh Steelers Senior Defensive Assistant/Linebackers coach Brian Flores participates in the Organized Team Activities(OTAs), Tuesday May 31, 2022 at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. (Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers)

In his rookie season, Johnson saw the field in just four games. While he contributed on special teams, appearing in 59 snaps there, Johnson played just six defensive snaps. As a result, there wasn’t much tape to show what kind of talent he has. Heading into 2022, his name has remained quiet throughout the off-season.

On the optimistic side, Johnson is just one year removed from being the 140th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The talent is there, and Pittsburgh obviously liked him to snag him in the fourth round. He’ll have to stay healthy to even get a chance, as he suffered with a nagging foot injury in 2021.

Rank also mentioned another Steeler as a breakout player.

Steelers Alex Highsmith

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker, Alex Highsmith(#56) celebrates a sack during a regular season game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, Sunday, January 3, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Karl Roser/Pittsburgh Steelers)

“I’d also like to shout out Alex Highsmith here, so I can point back to this next season when he finishes with 10 sacks. “

Steelers 2022 breakout player: Highsmith or Johnson (or other)?

Highsmith was the sexy pick last off-season for the black and gold’s breakout player. He ended up with six sacks total, but showed progression and improvement from his rookie season. This season, the Steelers expect big things out of him.

 

Steelers fans, what are your expectations for Buddy Johnson this season? Do you think he’s a good pick for the team’s breakout player? If not him (or Highsmith), who would be your pick? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Credit to my dad, I have been a lifelong Steelers fan. I have fond memories of watching the Steelers win two Super Bowls when I was a little kid. I have only been to 1 Steelers game in my life, which was in Kansas City. That was the notorious game where Antonio Brown pinned it against his chest down the sidelines for a touchdown. I hope to get to Heinz Field some day! I graduated from Iowa State University and look forward to growing as a writer with #SteelerNation!

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