One Steelers linebacker has flown under the radar, but here’s why fans should be rooting for him to make the biggest leap during the 2022 season.
Even if Devin Bush miraculously turns things around in his fourth season in 2022, there is little chance that he returns as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers next year. Kevin Colbert traded up to the 10th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to land Bush, and the team hoped that he could finally be the long-term replacement for Ryan Shazier on defense. So far, Bush has done nothing but disappoint.
The linebacker play has really been quite atrocious the past few seasons, and Bush hasn’t given us hope that he is going to turn things around. While Myles Jack looks promising in his first preseason action with the Steelers, he’s not guaranteed to be anything more than a stop-gap player.
Even if Jack is a success, Pittsburgh is still going to need another linebacker opposite of him who can take the reigns. Many are hoping that player is already on the roster.
Over the past several weeks, rookie linebacker, Mark Robinson, has drawn some serious buzz for his hard-nosed physicality and some of the plays he has been able to make in the preseason. Robinson admittedly has looked pretty good so far, but there are another young linebacker Steelers fans should be rooting for
Steelers fans should be pulling for Buddy Johnson
Buddy Johnson still has a long way to go. The former fourth-round pick wasn’t a training camp darling and he hasn’t made a ton of splash in the 2022 preseason. Regardless, he still might have the most upside to develop into the starting ‘Mack’ linebacker among players currently on the roster.
Johnson tested as a remarkable athlete coming out of Texas A&M in 2021. According to Relative Athletic Score, Johnson tested better than 92 percent of NFL linebackers prior to the NFL Draft. With 4.58 speed, a 4.07 shuttle, a 38.5” vertical, and a 10’8” broad jump, Johnson clearly isn’t lacking the speed, agility, or explosion to play the linebacker position at a high level.
Unfortunately, Johnson is lacking in some other departments. This elite athleticism doesn’t always show up on tape and he looks timid at times. This could be due to a lack of football awareness or understanding of the playbook. After all, there was a reason he was only able to carve out 6 defensive snaps during his rookie season despite dreadful Steelers linebacker performances.
While Mark Robinson could prove to be a better option in the immediate future, his upside seems to be much more limited. Robinson’s length is quite literally worse than 99 percent of NFL linebackers that have come into the league since 1999, according to Mockdraftable’s database. He’s also a relatively poor athlete by NFL standards, and this could limit him to being a run-defender only.
On the other hand, Johnson has good enough size and outstanding athletic traits that fans should be hoping to translate down the line. After a sloppy first preseason outgoing against the Seahawks, Johnson looked much better the second time around against the Jaguars as he was making tackles much closer to the line of scrimmage.
If Johnson can get to the point where the game starts to slow down for him, he could really start to make some strides. My guess is that the Steelers don’t have their future linebackers on the roster yet. I know Robinson is the player getting the buzz thanks to his physicality, but for the sake of the team, fans should be rooting for Buddy Johnson to succeed.