In terms of gaining separation off the line of scrimmage and beating the press off the snap, former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown is among the best in the NFL in doing that. It was a significant part in his overall success, to win routes right off the line.
The Steelers are hoping that third-round pick Diontae Johnson will be able to make a similar transition to the NFL level based on the traits that they saw in him on tape, including his ability to beat press coverage, something that wide receivers coach Darryl Drake raved about when talking about the selection yesterday night after it was made.
“He’s really good vs. press, and as you know this is a press league”, he said during the introductory portion of his miniature press conference. “Those defensive backs walk up in your face and they try to fingerprint you, and he’s very allusive at the line scrimmage. You need a guy who can get off bump. The thing that he does is get off bump, and he gets in and out of his breaks as well as anybody that I’ve seen in a long time”.
That’s some awfully high praise, though of course it’s only one facet of being a wide receiver. There are still a lot of other areas of Johnson’s game that needs to be fleshed out, such as his ability to compete in traffic with the ball in the air, as well as some of the nuance of his route running.
But Drake feels that he possesses the talent, at least eventually if not initially, to line up anywhere for the Steelers. “He can work off the nickel, he can work off linebackers, but he can also line up on the single receiver side and beat man-on-man coverage”, he said, as the offense searches for a new X receiver to replace Brown.
“He was a guy that I wanted and I appreciate [General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin] seeing the same things that I saw in this young man”, he went on. Drake said that it was Tomlin who first came to him and asked him to watch Johnson’s film, and that’s when he started to fall in love with him—a love that only grew when he got to meet with him and work him out at the Combine and during his Pro Day.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the clear number one in the Steelers’ wide receivers room now that Brown is in Oakland, but the rest is more or less up for grabs. The emergent candidates are second-year James Washington, who was a second-round pick a year ago, and Donte Moncrief, who was signed in free agency to a two-year, $9 million contract.
Where he will work initially remains to be seen, but one area where he may contribute immediately is on special teams as a returner. He figures to compete with Ryan Switzer for that role as the latter enters his first full offseason with the team after coming to Pittsburgh via trade in August.