The Pittsburgh Steelers parted with one of the best players in the NFL earlier this offseason in Antonio Brown, essentially with the wide receiver forcing their hands to find a trading partner for him who would be willing to rework his contract to not only give him a pay raise but with guaranteed money.
So of course they used one of the draft picks that they got back in exchange for Brown to draft a wide receiver who bears a lot of similarities to the Central Michigan product when he came out as an underclassman in 2010 in Diontae Johnson. And Johnson is well aware of the comparisons.
Literally the second question he was asked by the local media was about whether or not his description reminded him of any former Steeler. Of course he knew exactly what the question was really about. “Antonio Brown”, he said, without missing a beat. “He’s a great receiver and one of the guys I look up to in the league. But at the end of the day I can only be me and do what I can do best”.
Johnson is a Toledo product, another school from the MAC conference, which also produced Brown, so obviously a lot of prospects from that group are going to look up to Brown, even more so than the typical wide receiver, because of his origins.
But they have a similar frame coming out, and similarly played both offense and special teams as a returner. Remember, when Brown made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his second season in 2011, it was as a return specialist and not as a wide receiver.
During his junior season in 2018, Johnson returned 16 kicks for a 25.8-yard average and 13 punts for 241 total yards, averaging 18.5 yards per, including a touchdown. He has four total return touchdown, one of each variety in each of the past two seasons, on 95 total returns.
His best season offensively came in 2017 during his sophomore season, during which he caught 74 passes for 1278 yards and 13 touchdowns. The difference between the two seasons? He had Logan Woodside in 2017, who threw for 3882 yards and 28 touchdowns. Toledo split between Eli Peters and Mitchel Guadagni last season.
In his three years at Central Michigan, Brown put up 305 receptions for 3199 yards and 22 touchdowns, including nine touchdowns in his junior seasons before he declared for the draft as a true underclassman. Johnson is also coming out as a junior, but he redshirted for one season and also missed 2016 due to an injury, so will actually be turning 23 soon.
Entering his career with comparisons to Brown, especially when he is coming to the team Brown played for, drafted with the selection acquired after trading him, is unfair to Johnson, but I don’t think anybody is actually expecting him to come in and duplicate his success. Of course, even Brown wasn’t himself for the first few years of his career.