Diontae Johnson isn’t being used nearly as much as he has been in the past. Will the growing frustrations from the Steelers receiver cause an issue?
I want to be clear here: Diontae Johnson has not verbally expressed his frustration with his lack of usage on the Pittsburgh Steelers this year. However, one has the right to wonder if this has the potential to become a situation if things continue at this rate.
Over the past two seasons in 2020 and 2021, Johnson was Pittsburgh’s number one receiver, and there really wasn’t even a close second option. With Ben Roethlisberger at the helm during this span, he recorded 195 catches on a whopping 313 targets for 2,084 yards and 15 touchdowns, according to ESPN stats.
These gaudy numbers were among the best in the NFL during this span and helped him get paid like a top-20 NFL receiver this past offseason… and it’s probably a really good thing he inked his contract when he did.
Through the first 10 games of the 2022 season, Johnson has 51 catches for 456 yards and 0 touchdowns. His cringeworthy 8.9 yards per reception is a career low by nearly two full yards. If we were to prorate his stats for a 17-game season, the Steelers receiver is on pace for 146 receptions for just 775 yards.
This isn’t necessarily due to a lack of targets either. Remarkably, Johnson already has 86 targets this season and is on pace for 146 by the end of the year. However, his efficiency has taken such a nosedive that he has become one of the least efficient starting receivers in the league when targeted.
Are the Steelers creating a disgruntled employee?
As Steelers fans, we have nightmares about disgruntled wide receivers. Though I don’t feel this will be the case with Diontae Johnson, it’s not hard to understand his frustration.
After being the top dog in this offense for each of the past two seasons, Johnson hasn’t been used in a way that best accommodates his skill set. Instead, most of his routes are designed to lead him to the sidelines with little opportunity for explosive plays or any sort of respectable yards after the catch.
In addition to his questionable usage, I’m sure the quarterback change at least plays some factor as well. Johnson went from having great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger to playing with both Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett this year. With Trubisky early in the season, Johnson started off really strong. However, that didn’t last and he’s almost been a non-factor with Pickett at the helm.
In his recent Week 12 press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin chalked this up to team shifting attention in his direction.
Obviously, Pickett is early in his career, and there’s still plenty of time for him and Johnson to develop a strong rapport with each other. So far, however, things have not gone according to plan for Johnson.
If things continue down this path, Johnson could ultimately express his frustration to the team. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to that point and the Steelers former number one receiver is okay with taking a backseat in the passing game — at least for now.