The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Diontae Johnson will be the number two receiver by the end of the year.
Explanation: Given the vacuum of talent and experience that exists in the wake of the Antonio Brown trade, the Steelers have left their options open about who will work around JuJu Smith-Schuster as the top target. Rookie Diontae Johnson will be in the mix, with the opportunity to ascend.
There is nothing more important in terms of getting on the field for a wide receiver than to have a good rapport with your quarterback. And there is no better way, on the field, to build that rapport than by running precise routes and knowing how to get open.
That is what Antonio Brown did. And that is what Diontae Johnson is capable of doing. He has looked the part so far this spring according to everybody who has talked about him as well, so the early signs are positive.
And realistically, he doesn’t have the most daunting competition. Donte Moncrief isn’t far from journeyman status at this point, on his third different team in three years, while James Washington has to prove that his disappointing rookie season was just a slow start and nothing more.
The other options around him might not be proven, but they do have more experience than he does. And as far as Moncrief goes, I haven’t read anything but very positive things about him so far. Speaking of rapport with your wide receivers, Ben Roethlisberger singled him out for praise. He’s also a bigger guy, and you know his quarterback likes that.
Moncrief feels like a shoe-in to start at the beginning of the season, and as long as he’s producing he’s not going to lose his spot. They might mix people in but he won’t be demoted. He’ll already be pushed by Washington.
And while Johnson may have looked good in shorts so far, that’s a long way off from doing it in a regular season game. He is coming from a MAC school, which makes college-to-pro projections more difficult. He figures to be that fourth or fifth guy as a rookie, mixed in here and there. 2020 will be his chance to make a bigger jump.