With two games now remaining in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 regular season, wide receiver Diontae Johnson is one tired rookie. Why? Because he’s hitting the proverbial rookie wall. Johnson admitted as much after the Steelers Thursday practice when he was asked to assess not only his rookie season to date, but also how he’s feeling physically entering Week 16.
“Tired,” Johnson said, according to audio on 93.7 The Fan. “I’m hitting the rookie wall, or whatever, but I’m still pulling through. My teammates are talking to me, or whatnot, telling me how to get through it, or whatever. But I’m just tired overall, but I’m still gonna play my behind off for my teammates. Can’t let that be an excuse. So, I just gotta take each day at a time.”
Johnson, who enters Week 16 of the regular season as the Steelers leading pass catcher with 47 receptions for 545 yards and four touchdowns, was asked on Thursday to reveal what kind of advice he’s received from his teammates when it comes to beating the rookie wall.
“Like, just keep taking care of my body like the way I’ve been doing because you’re gonna have little injuries that are naggy, or whatnot,” Johnson said. “It’s just what you do to maintain them, so they don’t keep lingering.”
Johnson was asked to expand more on what’s so different about NFL and college seasons training-wise.
“Preparation, because I didn’t really take it serious in college like that,” Johnson admitted. “But preparation, practicing hard, eating healthy, because you’ve got to eat healthy to give your body the right nutrition, or whatnot. And also, just drinking a lot of water.”
While Johnson has played in all 14 games so far season, he’s only logged 559 total offensive snaps, which is roughly 63.5% of the total amount. Even so, he’s still logged more offensive snaps than any other Steelers wide receiver with two game remaining. The Toledo product and this year’s first of two third-round draft picks has also logged 36 total special teams snaps with most of those including him being the team’s punt returner.
One of the biggest negatives when it comes to Johnson’s play so far in his rookie season has been his ball security as he’s fumbled five times through 14 games played. Two of those fumbles came during the Sunday night loss to the Buffalo Bills with one of those coming during the red zone Wildcat play late in the first half. That fumble was recovered by the Bills defense and it was one of several key plays in the loss.
Fumbles aside, Johnson has had a very nice rookie season and hopefully he can get over the dreaded wall starting Sunday against the New York Jets. While it’s probably asking a bit much, should Johnson register 15 more catches in the Steelers final two regular season games, he would set a new franchise record for receptions in a season by a rookie. The current record is 61 and it was set in 1999 by Troy Edwards.
However, with just 11 more receptions in the final two regular season games, Johnson would move into second place on the franchise’s list behind Edwards and thus would be ahead of wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught 58 passes in his 2017 rookie season.
Regardless of how Johnson ultimately finishes out his rookie season, now that he knows what to expect as an NFL player moving forward, it’s fun to think about what kind of jump he’ll make next season. Perhaps this same time next year we’ll be writing about him closing in on 100 receptions with two games remaining in the regular season. In the meantime, here’s to Johnson drinking plenty of water for the remainder of the season.