The Pittsburgh Steelers thought enough of wide receiver Diontae Johnson to select him in the third-round of the 2019 NFL Draft and now it will be interesting to see how much playing time he winds up getting during his rookie season. Judging by a Thursday post by Pro Football Focus, they seemingly expect Johnson to be on the field plenty in 2019 thus they have him listed 9th on a list of 10 newly-drafted players that they believe should be considered candidates to win the annual AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
Here is what Mike Renner of PFF had to say about listing Johnson ninth on his list:
Not the next receiver you were expecting? Johnson goes to a Steelers club that heaved the ball all over the yard last season – Ben Roethlisberger’s 675 passing attempts were 36 more than any quarterback in the NFL. A whopping 164 of those targets are up for grabs with the departure of Antonio Brown. Now Johnson won’t replace Brown’s production, but he should replace his role within the offense with a very similar skill set.
Renner’s outlook for Johnson is very, very optimistic and he looks like he may have forgot all about the Steelers signing veteran wide receiver Donte Moncrief during the early stages of free agency this offseason. Moncrief is very likely to open the 2019 regular season as the Steelers starting X receiver, so unless Johnson is able to get some early-season playing time in the slot, a position that JuJu Smith-Schuster is likely to line up at again quite a bit in 11 personnel groupings, it’s hard to visualize the Toledo product getting enough playing time, and more importantly, targets, to warrant making him a legitimate candidate to win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2019.
Just a few years ago, Smith-Schuster took the NFL by storm on his way to registering 58 receptions for 917 yards and 7 touchdowns. His 917 receiving yards set a new Steelers rookie record and his 58 receptions were second-best all-time for the franchise. Last season, however, the Steelers drafted wide receiver James Washington out of Oklahoma State in the second-round and he went on to record just 16 receptions for 217 yards and a touchdown in his rookie season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was the last Steelers player to win the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2004 and Louis Lipps was the last Pittsburgh wide receiver to win the award in 1984 and he did so after registering 45 receptions for 860 yards and 9 touchdowns.
As history has shown us, it’s certainly tough for a wide receiver to win the annual Offensive Rookie of the Year award and in the last 15 years only Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) and Percy Harvin (2009) have been able to accomplish that feat during that span. For Johnson to do it in 2019 would take a minor miracle and perhaps a few injuries to players such as Moncrief and Smith-Schuster. So, in closing, I wouldn’t bet much of your money on Johnson winning the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award.