The Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver corps got young in a hurry since the start of the year. Not only were they forced to part with 10-year veteran Antonio Brown after a mysterious mustache illness that sapped it of its pigmentation caused the All-Pro to lose all rational function, they even ended up losing two other veterans along the way.
And that’s not even talking about the fact that they didn’t re-sign Darrius Heyward-Bey, whom honestly they may have to call pretty soon. I’m talking about Donte Moncrief, whom they released a couple weeks ago, a sixth-year offseason signing, and Ryan Switzer, a third-year veteran.
Their top three targets are now no older than 23 and have no more than under three years of NFL experience. And the most experienced of that group, JuJu Smith-Schuster, is expected to sit out the Steelers’ next game with a concussion and a knee injury.
Smith-Schuster suffered both on the same play when he was struck by multiple defenders in trying to make a catch in traffic against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Should he sit out, Pittsburgh will be fielding a very inexperienced receiving corps—with or without rookie Diontae Johnson, who did practice fully yesterday after also suffering a concussion in that same game.
Said second-year teammate James Washington, “it was good to see that”, on Johnson being able to work on the practice field less than a week after taking a scary blow to the head, courtesy of Browns safety Damarious Randall, who was ejected for the hit.
He’s an asset to us”, Washington went on to say about the rookie third-round pick. “Having him out there, I wouldn’t say experience, but he’s someone who knows what his role is right now”.
Even though he’s the least experienced on the roster in terms of duration in the league, Johnson has been an important contributor to the passing game this year, and ranks third, second, and tied for first, respectively, in team receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.
Through the first 10 games of his career, the Toledo product has caught 32 passes on 50 targets (catching 64 percent of his targets) for 380 yards with three touchdowns. Quarterbacks have been averaging 7.6 yards per target when throwing in his direction, third on the team to Smith-Schuster and Washington, at 8.7 and 8.6 yards per target, respectively.
The rookie has had his issues, including some bad drops and a couple of fumbles, but he has been an immediate asset and is likely already the most accomplished route runner in the room. The team has been limiting his snaps a bit, but with Smith-Schuster likely out, he will have to see extended action on Sunday.