Diontae Johnson is older than JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’s even almost as old as James Washington is. Nevertheless, he is coming in as the novice of the group, not simply being the one to have never experienced the NFL before, but also having played in the MAC, rather than in a bigger conference, more frequently facing a higher level of competition.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ newest wide receiver is coming in with a humble attitude, ready to learn from those who have been here and done it before him. Obviously, that especially falls on Smith-Schuster, who has been in the league for two seasons already and has a Pro Bowl under his belt, but he is willing to learn from anybody who has something to teach him.
“I can learn from them even though I’m where I am”, he told reporters yesterday at the close of rookie minicamp about Smith-Schuster and Washington. “I can still learn from them because they’ve been here, played, and had success, so I’m just gonna come in and learn from them and apply as much of the stuff they tell me to my game”.
Johnson is the third wide receiver in as many years that the Steelers have drafted on the second day of the draft, making Smith-Schuster a second-round pick in 2017 and Washington also a second-round selection in 2018. Johnson was selected in the third round, but all of them were selected between the 60th-overall selection and the 66th.
Will they be the team’s top three wide receivers, and if so, will it happen sooner rather than later? The biggest obstacle, other than their own progression, is free agent signee Donte Moncrief, who will be competing against Washington for the starting role after the second-year player struggled as a rookie for most of the 2018 season.
Smith-Schuster didn’t have those sorts of rookie struggles and came into his own in year two, catching 111 passes for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. He is now the top guy, while also being the youngest, and Johnson is ready to glean anything he can from the young star.
“I kind of talked to JuJu a little bit. Not like a full conversation, but I talked to him”, he said when asked if he has spoken to the veterans yet. “Just told me to keep working. That was the main thing. He just told me to keep working, keep my head down”.
The rookies and veterans will converge on the field for the first time next week as OTAs get underway. Who works with the ones outside of Smith-Schuster is yet to be seen, but Washington and Moncrief both figure to get their opportunities. It may take Johnson some time to earn some reps with Ben Roethlisberger.