I don’t think there is ever a bigger information dump for NFL writers than during the NFL Draft, because with it comes not just a bombardment of new players, but a barrage of interviews and press conferences to mine through, as well as new perspectives about what the future might look like.
In other words, it’s a period of time in which we might be writing about a lot of things a while after they were said. Not that there is a ton going on at this time of year otherwise once the draft itself comes and goes, so that doesn’t seem to suggest too much of a problem.
And so over the course of the next several days I plan to try to go back to the draft and dig into what some of the coaches have had to say, either about their newest players or about other aspects of the team. I’m starting now with Pittsburgh Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake and his realization of his love for third-round pick Diontae Johnson.
Johnson was the first player the Steelers selected after taking Devin Bush with the 10th-overall pick, since they gave up their second-round pick in order to be able to make the move up from 20th and land their desired prospect.
While the selection originally left many non-plussed, the team did a great job of selling Johnson to fans, and later, as more people discovered his tape, it helped state his case even further. For Drake, though, it really had a lot to do with just who Johnson is.
“Not only is he a tremendous football player, but also a tremendous young man”, Drake said in his opening remarks. “I fell in love with him after spending time with him, dining with him, and talking to him – seeing his passion for the game, his passion for wanting to be great, and his passion for his teammates”.
Johnson, a Toledo product, recently went back for his graduation ceremony, with new and former teammate Olasunkanmi Adeniyi in attendance cheering him—and the Steelers—on in the audience. The Steelers added Adeniyi as a college free agent last year.
“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. “As you get to be around him, you’re going to love his smile and his personality and his style of play. Again, very excited about the pick, and I think he’s a guy Steelers Nation is going to be really excited about”.
Tomlin was the one who first pointed Johnson out to Drake, asking him to take a deeper look at the wide receiver, and he subsequently got to know him on multiple occasions, at his Pro Day as well as at the Combine, but not when he came in for a pre-draft visit.
I had time to really be around him because it was important to me what kind of character he had. That’s extremely important and he checked all of the boxes as far as that’s concerned”, he said of his newest pupil. “I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and he was one of the best interviews and guys I’ve been around in a long time”.
Rest assured, it wasn’t just his words that convinced Drake of Johnson’s abilities. It was also his change of direction, his ability to beat press coverage, his hands, his return ability—really, the only thing that stopped him from continuing his praise was the fact that the team was about to be on the clock again.