Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Free Agents Analysis: TE David Johnson – Unrestricted

By Matthew Marczi

Player: David Johnson

Position: Tight End

Experience: 5 Years

Free Agent Status: Unrestricted

2013 Salary Cap Hit: $665,000

2013 Season Breakdown: The 2013 season was a brief one for fifth-year tight end/fullback David Johnson, who had his year ended prematurely after suffering a season-ending wrist injury in the fifth game of the year against the New York Jets.

Johnson missed the entirety of the 2012 season after suffering an ACL tear in the preseason opener last season, and his rehabilitation was a long one. He required some type of clean-up procedure between minicamps and training camp this year, which prolonged his eventual recovery.

In the limited snaps that he did take, however, he performed well, primarily as an in-line blocking tight end, now that the Steelers have—yet rarely use—a proper fullback in Will Johnson, though he did also play on the move at times.

The elder Johnson had a particularly excellent game in London against the Minnesota Vikings, making his first start of the year and playing a total of 24 snaps. His run blocking in particular during that contest was a boost to the team’s efforts in what was Le’Veon Bell’s first career game.

I wrote previously about his work in the blocking department during that game when it happened, which can be revisited here.

In addition to his blocking, Johnson also managed to fare well as a receiver in highly limited opportunities, catching four of six passes in his direction for a total of 70 yards, 32 of which came after the catch. While that will never be a primary feature of his game, he did show that he needs to be accounted for.

Unfortunately, Johnson suffered that season-ending wrist injury on just his second snap into the fifth game of the year, prematurely ending his season and putting the Steelers in a bind at the tight end position.

Free Agency Outlook: As it looks right now, Johnson is the team’s best option as a third tight end. The Steelers already have Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth under contract as their top two tight ends. Meanwhile, the 2012 seventh-round draft pick David Paulson continued to show that he is a liability as a blocker, and wasn’t even overly reliable as a receiver, despite hauling in a 30-yard pass on a fake punt late in the season.

Though Paulson is already under contract, I would suspect that the team would like to bring Johnson back to compete for the third tight end spot. They may even carry four, as they did this past season. Johnson also serves as the backup at the fullback position. Provided that he will be healthy, I see no reason to suspect that Johnson won’t be re-signed, barring a moderately high draft pick at the position.

Other Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Ryan Clark – Unrestricted Free Agent
Emmanuel Sanders – Unrestricted Free Agent
Brett Keisel – Unrestricted Free Agent
Jerricho Cotchery – Unrestricted Free Agent
Ziggy Hood – Unrestricted Free Agent
Jason Worilds – Unrestricted Free Agent

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    Completely agree Marczi, barring an early draft pick at the TE position, I fully expect them to bring D.Johnson back to compete and most likely win the #3 spot behind Miller and Spaeth

    He’s a much better blocker than Paulson and can backup the fullback position

  • Callentown

    It’s too bad he can’t stay on the field. That said, when he does play, I like what he brings to the table – big tough guy to bring down when he catches the ball too.

  • DrakePirate

    Ya I also hope they keep him as the 3rd TE and i like your idea as an UDFA TE as the 4th option on the practise squad rather than on the 53. Although he did well in blocking, I really thought his most growth was as a receiver catching the ball, i know it was only a few attempts, but he really looked impressive to me and I would go so far to say because he is younger than Spaeth, if we do draft a TE early I would prefer him to Spaeth as the 3rd TE or at least have him and Spaeth battle it out in camp for the 3rd TE option, I love Heath, but he is really getting slower and I see only 2-3 years left before he rides into the sunset … we really need to get his replacement soon and another option as well to pair with him.

  • DrakePirate

    I really saw something special in him this past year as well !

  • 20Stoney

    It felt like they carried 7 or 8 tight ends this year.

  • cencalsteeler

    DJ has caught some bad breaks with his injuries (no pun intended). He is one of my favorites, and I’ll be pulling for him to make 14’s squad.

  • Patrick Reid

    We are so much better with him on the field. That said I would love to see us go 2nd or 3rd rd with a TE. Jenkins or Niklas from ND would make us much more dynamic, especially in the RZ. keeping 4 is fine because of Johnson’s value. That said, the two TE sets with Heath would be awesome. Paulson can hit the road.

  • DrakePirate

    If a 2nd/3rd round TE choice … what position do u like for 1st round ?

  • Patrick Reid

    Oh, I’m still on Nix at NT. If not, Dennard at CB(Det will prob pick him) or Kahlil Mack at OLB. If Wood is gone. Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

  • Mark

    If they draft another TE and resign David Johnson, they need to cut Paulson. He can’t block and can’t get open.

  • Mark

    His injury in 2012 wasnt his fault. That was the year when Gilbert kept falling on the back of people’s legs. Gilbert took out Decastro and DJ and I think someone else too.

  • David Edward

    I think DJ, due to his injury history, is the type of guy they can wait on and sign for the vet minimum in June.

  • Callentown

    Just another reason we need a real RT on this team. Good point Mark.

  • alex

    so then where do we have more need, drafting Heaths future replacement or finding that big fast WR for Ben?