Ramon Foster has built up a bit of a reputation for having an eye for talent after picking up early on players like Mike Hilton and Jaylen Samuels over the course of the past few years before they really showed in training camp or even in the regular season what they were capable of.
So people like to go for him to get some feedback about what he’s seeing from players. Mike Prisuta did just that for the team’s website recently. While he called out a couple of his own, a pair of undrafted offensive linemen, and also highlighted James Washington, there was another wide receiver that he liked seeing, even if he has reportedly remained somewhat limited.
That would be Diontae Johnson, the Steelers’ early third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. There was a report that the team even had a first-round grade on him, though they would not confirm that when it was asked of them.
“Our third-round receiver, he has some tools, and there was a comparison to a guy that came in a year after me that they were like, he’s really looking advanced”, Foster said, referring obliquely, in case you didn’t catch that, to Antonio Brown. Brown was drafted in 2010, while Foster came out in 2009.
“He has an opportunity”, Foster said of him. “He’s a guy that I’m really looking forward to seeing”.
According to those in attendance, Johnson was sidelined by the coaches during rookie minicamp from team drills, though he still participated in individual drills. I have also read indications that he still remains somewhat limited, but has been worked into team drills as well now.
Johnson was acquired with one of the two draft picks that the Steelers received in return for the Brown trade after they sent him to the Oakland Raiders for third- and fifth-round draft picks. The fifth-round pick was turned into tight end Zach Gentry, who figures to be more of a project.
There is an opportunity for Johnson, as Foster said, but it won’t necessarily be easy to get to it. While JuJu Smith-Schuster is cemented as the Steelers’ top wide receiver, there may be a position battle for the next several spots between Washington, Johnson, and free agent pickup Donte Moncrief.
There does seem to be some degree of favorability for Johnson from Ben Roethlisberger, however, which is by far the best way for a young skill position player to get on the field. He reportedly ran Johnson through some individual drills at one point and was helping to instruct him how to run the route better. He also calls for Johnson to be mixed into his first-team reps.