Diontae Johnson was productive last season, but where does the Steelers top weapon rank among all NFL wide receivers entering the 2022 season.
Even after the Steelers drafted the player who they hope is their quarterback of the future in Kenny Pickett, there is another player who has perhaps been even more talked about. Diontae Johnson has been at the center of discussion since the NFL Draft as the team still hasn’t decided whether or not his long-term future lies in Pittsburgh.
Johnson, who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in his third season in 2021, is coming off a year in which he snagged 107 catches for 1,161 yards, and 8 touchdowns. While his raw statistical production was very good, efficiency numbers tell a different story.
Playing with an aging Ben Roethlisberger last season, Johnson averaged just 10.9 yards per reception last season to go with a mediocre 6.9 yards per target. After not dropping a pass for the first 11 games of the season, Johnson recorded 7 drops in the final 7 contests (including the Wild Card loss to the Chiefs), via Pro Football Reference.
There are a number of factors that come into play when it comes to evaluating a wide receiver. Johnson might have finished 10th in the NFL in receiving yards, but where does he rank among all NFL receivers entering the 2022 season?
Where does Steelers WR Diontae Johnson rank?
Let’s start with the obvious (or what should be obvious, in my opinion). At this point in time, Johnson doesn’t hold a candle to top-flight receivers like Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Jefferson, Deebo Samuel, A.J. Brown, and Stefon Diggs. There are eight players right there.
Looking at the next tier of NFL wide receivers, I wouldn’t have Johnson lower than DJ Moore, Mike Williams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyler Lockett, Keenan Allen, Tee Higgins, CeeDee Lamb, Terry McLaurin, Amari Cooper, Chris Godwin, DK Metcalf, or Michael Pittman Jr. This brings the total up to 20 players ahead of him already.
Here’s where it starts to get interesting. Because of his inconsistencies and average efficiency, I believe that Johnson is in the same tier as players like Brandin Cooks, Jaylen Waddle, Marquise Brown, DeVonta Smith, Adam Theilen, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones. After this group, I think the receivers drop down another tier.
Of the aforementioned names, I would have Johnson slotted above Brown, Smith, Theilen, Beckham, and Jones at the moment, but just below Cooks and Waddle. This would make Diontae Johnson the 23rd-best receiver in the league.
This opinion is certainly subject to change after the 2022 NFL season kicks off. However, I think the 23rd spot among all NFL wide receivers is justified considering that Johnson hasn’t been the most efficient or consistent receivers.
While Johnson improved his consistency somewhat last season after leading the league in drops in 2020, fans sometimes forget that things didn’t go particularly well down the stretch. Over the final 7 games (including the playoffs), Johnson averaged just 55.1 yards per game despite getting exactly 10 targets per contest.
This was good for a dismal 5.5 yards per target. Additionally, Johnson’s hands were very shaky down the stretch, as he dropped two big passes in the playoff game alone.
It will be interesting to see if Johnson’s efficiency is aided by a change at the quarterback position. He has the potential to creep up the wide receiver rankings if he continues to improve, but as of now, I think the Steelers top receiver is roughly the 23rd best player in the NFL at his position.