Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: WR Diontae Johnson
Stock Value: Up
While his debut was far from flawless, especially concerning his work in the return game—he muffed a punt and his returns that he was able to secure were lackluster—rookie Diontae Johnson did show some impressive traits as a wide receiver for the Steelers on Saturday night, including his first touchdown.
Johnson finished his first game action with three receptions for 46 yards, both of which were second on the team in the game behind James Washington’s four receptions for 78 yards. But he was also the only player other than Jaylen Samuels (on the ground) to get into the end zone for the Steelers.
In fact, he got there twice, but the first one didn’t count. Unfortunately, the quality of angle on the television broadcast makes it somewhat difficult to answer definitively, but he was ruled to have committed offensive pass interference on a 24-yard touchdown pass in the early stages of the fourth quarter from Joshua Dobbs. Mike Tomlin challenged the ruling, which stood as called.
He would finish the game late with a second touchdown of 24 yards, this time showing fantastic adjustment with the ball in the air. It was fortunate for Devlin Hodges that the cornerback kept his back to the ball, but Johnson was able to work his way around, while remaining inbounds to secure it in the left front corner of the end zone following some impressive and nuanced route-running.
The rookie’s ability to sell fakes on his routes and to create separation is why the Steelers valued him so highly. I’m not at all convinced that he would not have been their second-round pick had they not traded it to the Denver Broncos to move up in the first round for Devin Bush. The late Darryl Drake was that high on him.
Dobbs recently shared an anecdote about how Drake would constantly play Johnson’s tape for everybody who would watch it during the pre-draft process, which also just goes to show how respected and valued he was, both personally and professionally.
That’s a bit of an aside, but the reality is that Johnson is going to be tied to Drake. He was the one who made the sales pitch and they went out and got him. Johnson has flashed a lot of intriguing qualities since he’s been here and could have a bright future. But what will his impact be as a rookie?