The Pittsburgh Steelers looked to bolster their wide receiver group by adding Toledo product Diontae Johnson yesterday early in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. But Johnson told reporters during his conference call following the selection that he already felt as though he was a part of the team when he was at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex a couple of weeks ago.
“I love the place”, he said when he was asked for his impressions of the city from his visit there and who he spoke to while he was in the facility. “I like the energy from Coach Tomlin and the general manager around the building. I just felt like I was already on the team once I stepped foot in the building”.
The Steelers, especially in the earlier portions of the draft, tend to like taking players that they had in for pre-draft visits, though it’s far from a guideline set in stone. They do draft a decent number of them, however, usually three or so per year, and often use them to keep tabs on players they may be interested in later down the line in free agency or via trade.
That won’t be necessary for Johnson, who reportedly was fated to go in the early portions of the third round, even though he himself expected to go late in the round or early today. Wide receivers coach Darryl Drake said he was cursed out by Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians because he was going to take Johnson shortly thereafter.
Recall that the Steelers brought in Drake from the Arizona Cardinals last season. He served in that role under Arians, so they shared a connection. The Buccaneers ended up trading out of that draft spot after Johnson went off the board.
His agent told him that he would likely need a few wide receivers to go off the board—only two were drafted by the end of the first round on Thursday—in order for him to be drafted higher than the late portions of the third round.
That is exactly what we saw, with a run on the position late in the second round. Five wide receivers were drafted during a nine-selection span to close out the round, with seven going overall, starting with Deebo Samuel fourth and A.J. Brown 19th. Johnson was one of four taken in the third round. The two biggest names still waiting are Riley Ridley out of Georgia and Hakeem Butler from Iowa State.
Not that that concerns Johnson, because evidently he has already mentally been a Steeler for a couple weeks. He now enters a wide receiver room led by 22-year-old JuJu Smith-Schuster and complemented by James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer. There is certainly room for him to ascend up the depth chart as a rookie, perhaps into the top three or even as the primary starter across from Smith-Schuster if he really is that good.