With the Pittsburgh Steelers losing their top wide receiver in the offseason, they have put in work to try to fill out the depth chart in the hopes of replacing his production with a committee of players behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. To the group already consisting of James Washington, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer, in addition to free agent signing Donte Moncrief, was third-round draft pick Diontae Johnson.
While there was some initial surprise about the decision to draft him where they did, it quickly became obvious that at least some teams had viewed him higher than many analysts and amateur scouts did, with Bruce Arians telling Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to draft him shortly after. Drake was Arians’ wide receivers coach in Arizona.
The Steelers made sure that Drake would win that battle and add Johnson to his wide receivers room with their first selection in the third round, and their second selection in the draft overall. He was certainly thrilled about that, but so was Johnson, and he explained why when he sat down to talk with Missi Matthews for the team’s website.
Drake spoke glowingly of Johnson during his post-selection press conference, praising the wide receiver for his ability to beat press coverage among other things, calling him a natural at the position and casting aside any criticism of his speed.
“It means a lot to me”, Johnson said when Matthews asked him about how he felt when he heard what Drake said. “Coming from the visit, I felt we connected as soon as I’d seen him. He was telling me how I would be used in the offense and just talking about life skills as well. I just felt like I was a part of the team when I came on the visit. I just liked the vibes around the building. Once I got that phone call it was life-changing”.
Johnson is the second wide receiver the Steelers have drafted since Drake was brought in as the team’s new wide receivers coach last offseason following the retirement of Richard Mann. Last year saw the addition of James Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft.
While he had a disappointing rookie season, Drake presided over the breakout season of Smith-Schuster in his second year, during which he caught 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns en route to a Pro Bowl appearance. Antonio Brown also posted a career- and league-high 15 touchdowns while of course topping 100 receptions as he always does.
Johnson now has his turn at contributing to the Steelers’ offense. And this is not the first time that he has said that he felt like he was already a part of the team when he came in for a visit. He also told that to reporters during his conference call after he was selected. He should fit right in by all signs, but he’ll ultimately be judged by his on-field contributions.