On Sunday May 15, 2022, Steelers rookie minicamp comes to an end, with head coach Mike Tomlin having had a first look at year’s draft class, as well as many of the team’s rookie undrafted free agents, not to mention 28 tryout players.
But if there’s one UDFA who can be described as a player to watch this summer, it’s former Texas A&M edge rusher Tyree Johnson, who Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report recently named as the undrafted free agent most likely to make Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster in 2022.
“Johnson couldn’t have landed in a better situation as an undersized (6-foot-2 1/2, 248 pounds) edge-defender who doesn’t have the size, strength or length to consistently hold up as an end-of-the-line defensive end. Instead, he’ll join Pittsburgh’s outside linebackers with the possibility to flourish as a sub-package pass rusher,” offers Sobleski, before noting that Texas A&M awarded Johnson its Defensive Playmaker Award in 2021.
This as opposed to defensive teammates DeMarvin Leal and Michael Clemons, the former of whom was selected by the Steelers in the third round of the 2022 draft (No. 84 overall) and the latter of whom went to the New York Jets in Round 4 at No. 117 overall.
At Texas A&M, Johnson “flew off the ball compared to his counterparts and has the necessary quickness and flexibility to affect games on passing downs,” concludes Sobleski.
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Tyree Johnson Was Projected to be a Sixth-Round Pick
That dovetails with what NFL draft analysts have said about Johnson, and with what Steelers observers have been saying, too.
For example, NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein described Johnson as an “explosive edge talent,” and expected him to get selected in the sixth round of the draft. “His pass rush offers an impressive pairing of explosive speed and elite bend that can rocket him up and around the edge to hunt quarterbacks. The traits are present to project him as a future sub-package rusher,” concluded Zierlein.
That could be just what the doctor ordered for a Steelers team that needs better depth at outside linebacker, especially depth players who can help keep T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith fresh over the course of a 17-game season.
“If you are looking at two players to keep an eye on, its seventh-round pick Mark Robinson and undrafted free agent Tyree Johnson, both linebackers,” wrote Mark Kaboly of The Athletic after the first day of rookie minicamp.
Likewise, Bob Labriola of Steelers.com labeled Johnson “one of three names to watch once training camp starts,” with the other two being Jake Dixon, an offensive tackle from Duquesne, and Mataeo Durant, a running back from Duke who ran a 4.38 at his Pro Day and received the “largest UDFA RB contract in franchise history.”
Tyree Johnson Recorded 18 Sacks in College
Johnson started nine of the 12 games in which he appeared for the Aggies in 2021 and recorded a team-leading 8.5 sacks. He finished his Texas A&M career with 100 tackles (52 solo) in 47 games played, including 23.5 tackles for loss, 18 sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
He’ll be competing for a job with former Browns and Eagles linebacker Genard Avery, who signed a one-year contract in March. Ten-year veteran John Simon — who inked a Reserve/Futures contract with the Steelers in January — might also be part of the mix, as might former Broncos seventh-round pick Derrek Tuszka, who appeared in 15 games last season in a backup role. Then there’s first-year player Delontae Scott, who spent much of last year on Pittsburgh’s practice squad, but made his regular-season debut in November vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.
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