The Steelers may have found a special receiver in Diontae Johnson. Could he prove to be the best wide receiver from the 2019 draft?
Diontae Johnson has drawn a lot of buzz as of late, and it’s not too hard to understand why. After a stellar first NFL sesaon in which he led all rookies in receptions, the Steelers third-round pick from 2019 could be on his way to bigger and better things in year two.
There were several things that made Johnson’s rookie season so impressive. For starters, the rookie managed 59 catches, 680 yards, and 5 touchdowns at the mercy of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges throwing the ball. Remarkably, Johnson led all NFL receivers (not just rookies) in separation created per target this year, according to Next Gen Stats.
This offseason, several media outlets have talked about last year’s rookie receiver class and have made predictions on which players may be the best in their second season. Fox Sports recently took the liberty of asking the same question. However, Diontae Johnson wasn’t among their top five candidates:
Which WR will have the best 2nd season in the NFL? pic.twitter.com/NMbl0vwJKT
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) June 3, 2020
In their tweet, Fox Sports included D.K. Metcalf, A.J. Brown, Terry McLaurin, Deebo Samuel, and Marquise Brown. Each of these players impressed as a rookie in 2019 and they stand to have promising careers ahead of them. However, Johnson is a player that I think the general NFL media should be talking about.
Though he has a tough road ahead of him to stack up against an impressive rookie receiver class from last year, it’s certainly possible that he could have the best second season of all the 2019 receivers. Much of this has to do with the return of Ben Roethlisberger this year.
For nearly a decade, Roethlisberger loved throwing to Antonio Brown because of his ability to create quick separation and win after the catch. While Johnson still isn’t the most polished route runner, he shows a lot of promise in this area, and his ability to snap in and out of his breaks is as good as I’ve seen from a rookie receiver in a long time.
Johnson is also phenomenal at beating press coverage and his slippery dip at the line of scrimmage often allows for a free release, despite playing the challenging ‘X’ position.
Even with Roethlisberger’s recovering elbow, we can assume that the Steelers will pass the football more in 2020 than they did last year with perhaps the worst quarterback play in the league. We can also assume that the quality of those targets will drastically improve with Ben at the helm.
Johnson’s biggest challenge in fighting for a great second season will be the number of targets he receives. While we can assume that Johnson will be second in line for targets on the team, that’s not guaranteed to be the case. James Washington came on really strong last season and ultimately led the team in receiving. In addition, the acquisitions of Eric Ebron and Chase Claypool this offseason could limit how many additional looks Johnson will receive in year two.
It’s a pretty safe bet to think that Diontae Johnson is going to be a good NFL receiver, but whether or not he could have a better second season than all of the impressive rookie receivers last year remains to be seen. At the very least, he should be in the discussion.