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PFF Sees Pathway To Starting For Rookie WR Diontae Johnson

It’s fair to say that the departure of Antonio Brown earlier this offseason leaves a pretty big hole in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense. While they have JuJu Smith-Schuster to slide into the number two role, it’s not clear who the number two wide receiver is going to be, and that is not for a lack of candidates.

Entering the draft, the two primary competitors for that spot were viewed as James Washington and Donte Moncrief. Washington was a second-round pick in 2018 who is coming off a disappointing rookie season. Moncrief is a former third-round pick who is a bit of a journeyman, signed in free agency to a two-year deal worth $9 million.

Pro Football Focus sees this as an opening for the Steelers’ latest draft pick at wide receiver, Diontae Johnson out of Toledo, whom they viewed as one of the best values in the draft as an early third-round pick. The comparables to Brown coming out of college don’t hurt.

Austin Gayle writes that the ability to create separation has become the most significant trait among wide receivers during the evaluation process, and increasingly so in recent years. You’ll note that the top wide receivers taken in the first round this year, Marquise Brown, is not the big, burly type of frame that many believed would become the norm in the model of A.J. Green and Mike Evans.

Johnson certainly has the ability to create separation, but, per Gayle, he has also been very successful in the red zone because of his ability to sell any route in the short area of the field. He ranked ninth in college football over the past two seasons in terms of the percentage of his red-zone receptions that went for first downs or touchdowns at just under 39 percent.

He does note that the wide receiver has had some drops, recording 13 over the past two years, but argues that more than half of them came “in less than ideal situations”, and notes that his drop rate improves significantly when you only go by passes that were thrown with accuracy.

That in itself has been one knock on Johnson, however. In addition to some issues with catching passes that are not clean, he also doesn’t have a ton of tape in which he is making contested catches. Some of that is due to not a lot of opportunities to do so thanks to his ability to get open, but you always want to see those on tape at some point.

So what do you think? Does Johnson have a shot at cracking the starting lineup by the end of his rookie season? Both Smith-Schuster and Washington themselves, admittedly, started games as rookies, so it wouldn’t exactly be breaking with an established pattern.

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