Steelers WR Diontae Johnson has sickening efficiency numbers in 2022

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) runs off the field at half-time against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) runs off the field at half-time against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s very easy to see that the Pittsburgh Steelers are in need of a paradigm shift in the passing game, and Diontae Johnson needs to take a back seat.

I was hopeful that a new era in Pittsburgh would help usher in favorable results for Diontae Johnson and the Steelers passing game. In terms of raw production, Johnson has already found tremendous success in the past with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm, but he was never an elite player in terms of efficiency.

Sadly, just about everything took a nosedive on Pittsburgh’s offense this year — Johnson’s production being at the forefront.

The Steelers recently stacked back-to-back wins for the first time since last season, but it wasn’t thanks to Johnson. Despite earning 11 targets, Pittsburgh’s lead wide receiver had one of the worst games of his NFL career — dropping two passes and earning a mere 60 yards. Johnson was also dangerously close to fumbling against the Falcons before the play was overturned and ruled incomplete.

This lackluster performance was just the latest in line for a player who has had one disappointing game after another this year, and Steelers fans have to be wondering if he will ever turn things around.

What’s most concerning is his severe lack of efficiency when targeted. When comparing Johnson to Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens — the two other top pass-catchers on the team this year — it seems like he’s not even worth throwing the ball to. Here are his numbers in yards per reception, yards per target, broken tackles, and passer rating when thrown to, according to ESPN stats.

This has reached a level that is more than a little concerning. After paying Johnson like a top-20 NFL receiver this offseason in a contract that gives him over $18 million in new money annually, fans have the right to wonder if this was a colossal mistake at this point.

Steelers have hope… but it’s not with Diontae

In a game against the Falcons that was filled with inconsistent and downright bad play from the wide receiver position, it was nice to know that rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett at least has one target he can always count on. For most teams, their tight end isn’t their leading receiver, but that is the case this year for Pittsburgh Steelers tight end, Pat Freiermuth.

In the midst of the struggles of Johnson, George Pickens, and Steven Sims, Freiermuth was the only player who could consistently keep the chains moving with the passing game. In fact, he’s been playing so well that it’s hard not to want to throw to him every dropback.

Freiermuth now has 5 games of over 75 receiving yards this season despite missing time earlier this year with a concussion. But he’s not the only one who shows promise.

Though he’s nowhere near as consistent at this point, George Pickens flashes WR1 upside; it’s just a matter of staying patient. Steelers QBs have a passer rating of nearly 100 when targeting the rookie this year thanks to his exceptional ability to track and high-point the ball down the field.

Pickens obviously still has a lot of developing to do, and I think he could use an attitude adjustment before things get out of hand. However, that talent is certainly all there. It’s just going to take a little time for it to all come together.

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I truly believe that, despite his youth, Diontae Johnson’s best seasons are already behind him. After watching his disappointing 2022 season so far, I’m just hoping that he returns to being a competent WR2. He needs to show the Pittsburgh Steelers that they didn’t waste their money on him this past offseason.