In an offense that is only months removed from understanding that it will be without its top target from the course of the past six seasons, it’s safe to assume that there is still a lot to figure out for the Pittsburgh Steelers in terms of who will fit where and what everybody who throws their hand in the pile is capable of effectively contributing.
Minus Antonio Brown, the Steelers signed Donte Moncrief in free agency to a two-year, $9 million contract, and then they used their second selection in the draft, 66th overall, to add Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, whom they reported rated as high as the first round.
He didn’t have a blazing 40-yard dash time, but Johnson has said that he did not train for the dash, and added that he has game speed, and that it’s evident on film. He certainly possesses the separation ability that is frequently more important than speed.
Regardless of how fast he can go, the rookie has been off to a bit of a slow start because he has been a little limited. He did not work in team drills at all during rookie minicamp, and the extent of his participation in that capacity during OTAs the past two weeks is a bit unclear as well, but we know that he has done it.
“It’s fun, because he’s sort of like this wildcard that Ben kind of throws in every now and then, just to sort of see and feel what he can do”, veteran tight end Vance McDonald said of Johnson. “But I think the guy can fly, so it’ll be fun to see him light it up I think in preseason”.
There is a good chance that is how he is going to end up being used as a rookie this year, as a sort of ‘wildcard’ hand that the Steelers play here and there, at least early on while he gets his feet under him and adjusts to the speed and precision of the game.
Excluding the rookie, every wide receiver within the top five of the depth chart right now is a player who has at some point, in some capacity, been used with regularity as high as their team’s number three wide receiver, including James Washington, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer, the latter of whom had the third-most receptions and receiving yards in 2018 at the position behind Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
So that’s not an easy group to work into and make headway, because these are guys who both have some talent and a comfort level with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger has publicly praised even Rogers and Switzer on multiple occasions, and he was highly supportive of Washington after his public calling-out.
But he has also been making the effort with Johnson as well. Even when he wasn’t participating in team drills, Roethlisberger would reportedly run him through an individual drill and then give him feedback. That’s similar to how he welcomed Switzer after he was acquired via trade in August, and it wasn’t long at all before he started being integrated in to the offense.