3 reasons Steelers can’t bench Diontae Johnson for James Washington
What their role is on the offense
This is honestly the biggest issue with trying to bench Johnson in favor of Washington. While both players are talented, both play different positions as receivers. For the most part, Johnson is the Steelers’ typical “X” receiver while Washington takes on the “Z” spot. The X receiver takes on more physical coverage and is the better route runner. The Z receiver has more of a cushion and is seen as the more typical deep threat.
The main issue is that Chase Claypool has played more as a Z receiver this year. That was one of the primary reasons Washington took a back seat after Claypool emerged, as they play a similar role at receiver. If you take Johnson off the field, that means either Washington or Claypool is playing out of position. This weakens the unit as a whole, and it will limit the receiver that the Steelers line up at the X position.
This makes it really hard to take Johnson off the field. He is the only player that is a natural X receiver for the team, making it a challenge to move one of the other receivers to his spot. As well, his ability to make short catches turn into long gains is his best trait and one that fits in well with this new Steelers offense. Until that changes, Johnson is one of the best options the Steelers can field.
That isn’t to say they can ignore his drops. Obviously, if that issue continues, the team will have no choice but to bench Johnson and play their other receivers outside of their natural positions. That said, assuming he can improve upon his hands, the Steelers’ offense is far more dynamic with Johnson on the field as opposed to without him.