It’s the time of year when talk of camp battles and roster predictions start filling more headlines as NFL training camps approach. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is a lot of anticipation for the rookies and free agents who have been brought in to bolster the 2019 roster. As many fans discuss the possible contributions from the free agent signings of Steven Nelson, Donte Moncrief, and Mark Barron, the final free-agent the Steelers signed in 2019 has been overlooked: Johnny Holton.
The Steelers signed Johnny Holton in mid May to a one year contract for the league minimum of $645k. Holton has two years of NFL experience (2016 and 2017) with the Oakland Raiders, but only spent one game on the active roster in 2018 as he was on the Raiders’ practice squad. Holton was originally signed in the off-season by the Philadelphia Eagles, but was released on May 9.
While many put Johnny Holton in the same category as other player signing with the Steelers from the AAF, the fact that Holton has two full seasons of NFL experience is a big factor. By my calculations, he is not practice squad eligible so he must either make the roster or be released. Usually the desired progression for a player’s NFL career is from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The fact Holton played two full seasons and then was placed on the practice squad his third year is concerning for obvious reasons.
The most overlooked part of Holton’s contributions would be what he could bring on special teams. Much to the dismay of many Steeler fans, Darrius Heyward-Bey found a spot on the Steelers for five seasons mainly contributing as a gunner on kick coverage teams. Holton is a player who could contribute in the same manner, making him valuable as more than just a receiver.
Comparing snap accounts, Heyward-Bey played more than 200 snaps each season over the last two years on special teams. In 2016 he had just over 100 snaps on special teams because he only played 10 games due to injury. Holton logged 137 special team snaps in 2016 and 187 in 2017, along with three receiving touchdowns. So if the Steelers are looking to add a key special-teams contributor from the wide receiving corps, Holton could find himself in the mix.
I am not saying that Johnny Holton has an easy path to make the 53-man roster for the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers. I would still call him a long shot, much along the lines of Trey Griffey who spent last season on the Steelers practice squad. When doing roster predictions, I didn’t even mention Holton as someone who could push for a spot. But if the Steelers are looking for a wide receiver to replace the role of Darrius Heyward-Bey as a gunner on special teams, Johnny Holton could likely be on the top of that list.