Should Steelers LB Buddy Johnson be given a shot with the starters?

Buddy Johnson #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Buddy Johnson #51 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten some dismal defensive performances as of late. Should rookie linebacker Buddy Johnson be given a bigger shot?

Despite their investments into the position, the combination of Devin Bush and Joe Schobert for the Pittsburgh Steelers this year has been nothing short of disastrous. Kevin Colbert spent elite draft capital on Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft, while the team decided to trade for Schobert’s sizable contract in hopes to give the defense a boost.

Sadly, things have gotten much worse this year. While there are other contributing factors (like the loss of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu on the defensive line), Bush and Schobert simply haven’t played well at all.

When it comes to stopping the run or defending the pass, Pittsburgh’s off-ball linebackers look completely lost and the splash plays have been almost non-existent. Because of the trainwreck, we have witnessed from this pairing during the 2021 season, it seems necessary to ask: should the Steelers give rookie Buddy Johnson a chance with the starters?

This notion is sure to stir up a little controversy, but at what point do we try to look for a solution to the problem? Though the first 13 games of the NFL season, Schobert has earned a below-average overall grade, according to Pro Football Focus, and Bush’s grade is good for one of the worst of 83 qualifying linebackers.

While these players have combined for over 1,500 snaps this season, rookie Buddy Johnson has seen just 6. Considering the absurd level of struggles both Bush and Schobert have had, perhaps it’s time for Johnson to get a shot.

Does Johnson deserve a shot with Steelers starters?

Obviously, this is a lot to ask of a fourth-round rookie linebacker to step in and play on a defense that has been decimated by injuries this year… But could the results really be much worse than what we have seen?

At the very least, Johnson might be able to help stop the bleeding in Pittsburgh’s porous run defense. According to Team Rankings, Pittsburgh is currently one of the worst teams in the NFL in rushing yards allowed and yards per attempt allowed — something that is very uncharacteristic of a Steelers team. Perhaps they are missing a Vince Williams-type player more than they thought they would.

Johnson fits that same mold. Though he didn’t measure in very big at his Pro Day (6’0 1/2” and 229 lbs), Johnson specialized at coming downhill in college and stopping the run. Though his instincts were deemed questionable, he’s a terrific athlete who can flow to the ball and is a sure tackler.

If the Steelers were to give Johnson a shot, the question then becomes: who do they take off the field? Perhaps Pittsburgh would be willing to go with more of a committee approach at inside linebacker — depending on the down, distance, and game situation. By doing so, it could help keep their players fresher in the middle of the field.

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I haven’t necessarily seen any reason why we should believe that Buddy Johnson will be a better option than Devin Bush or Joe Schobert, but from what we have seen, it might be hard to be worse. At the very least, perhaps Johnson should work into a rotation so the Steelers can see what they have in him.