Steelers Free Agent Focus: Could 3rd Time be Charm for Steelers, David Johnson?

Success in the NFL requires: 1. Atletic ability. 2. A strong work ethic powered by dedication and determination. If you don’t quite have enough of number 1, you can apply number 2 to give yourself number 3, which is versatility. Even then you need some of number 4 – luck.

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end David Johnson has some of number 1, plenty of number 2 and number 3. What he hasn’t had is luck.

Capsule Profile of David Johnson with the Steelers

The Steelers drafted David Johnson in the 6th round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Johnson did not make the final cut, but did hang on to the practice squad. By 2010 he was good enough to be the team’s 3rd tight end while lining up in the backfield as a fullback. Johnson wasn’t a world-beater, but he step it up and come down with a key third down catch in the all-important late-season win over Baltimore.

In 2011 many fans will fail to forgive him for dropping a would be third down conversion vs. San Francisco and, while that drop was critical, he showed himself to be a serviceable player.

With Todd Haley’s arrival in 2012, Johnson was asked to formally shift to fullback. He made the move, but Johnson tore his ACL in preseason and was lost for the year.

During the early going in free agency in 2013, the Steelers made Johnson one of their under the radar signings. That move paid dividends as Matt Spaeth injured his lisfranc. Johnson opened the season as the Steelers number 1 tight end. While he may not have excelled in that role, with Heath Miller’s  return, Johnson showed himself to be a capable number 2 tight end, when disaster struck again, as he again tore and ACL and was out for the year.

The Case for Keeping Johnson

David Johnson is never going to be and all world tight end. He’s never going to remind anyone of Tony Gonzalez or Rob Gronkowski. But the Steelers don’t need him to be, the Steelers will be fine even if he matures into a Mike Maularkey type tight end.

Johnson’s odds of making the NFL were long given his draft position. Yet he’s worked to make it happen. He rehabbed tirelessly and was available for the Steelers home opener, and played well. He’s also got position flexibility, something which is vital.

Moreover, no other NFL team is going to target him. The Steelers can get him for the veteran minimum. On those terms, he’s a good pick up.

The Case for Letting Johnson Walk

Johnson’s only 26, but coming off of two consecutive ACL injuries. While David Paulson’s flashed something in 2012, 2013 was a disappointment. If Paulson can perhaps be counted on as a receiver, he’s not the blocker that Johnson. But with Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, the Steelers don’t need him to be. Moreover, the Steelers have an entire NFL draft to find a younger, more athletic tight end who can do the same or better job than Johnson, for less money.

Curtain’s Call on David Johnson

 A year ago Steelers Nation responded to the Johnson signing with a might “ho hum.” Johnson however vindicated Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s faith in him, even if injury struck.

The Steelers should resign Johnson, if his rehabilitation is on schedule, because it’s a low-risk high reward move. If Johnson gets beaten out in camp by a rookie, so be it. Little will be lost. But in bringing him back, the Steelers get a full back capable tight end who knows the offense and has a proven work ethic.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2014 Free Agent Focus.

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