The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the 2019 season much as they did the 2018 season, by allowing their playoff fate slip out of their grasp. Slow starts and slow finishes permeated both campaigns, with strong runs in between. But while the results were the same missing the playoffs, the means were quite different.
Yet again, they find themselves undergoing the exit meeting process earlier than anticipated, which means so are we. But that they still managed to go 8-8 without Ben Roethlisberger, and with the general quality of play that they faced along the way, I suppose things could have been worse.
While we might not know all the details about what goes on between Head Coach Mike Tomlin and his players during these exit meetings, we do know how we would conduct those meetings if they were let up to us. So here are the Depot’s exit meetings for the Steelers’ roster following the 2018 season.
Player: Diontae Johnson
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 1 Year
It goes without saying at this point that the Steelers’ ‘base’, starting offense is the 11 personnel, meaning that they have three wide receivers who should be regarded as being among their 11 ‘starters’. Long gone are the days of the base 12, or even 21—especially this year with scarce depth at both tight end and fullback. Their primary fullback and number two tight end by the end of the season starting the year either on the practice squad or another team.
Anyway, I’m just explaining why I’m reviewing Diontae Johnson, a rookie, so early in the exit meeting series, because without question, he was one of the Steelers’ top three wide receivers and for all intents and purposes a starter.
While his snap count waivered here and there, he only saw fewer than 50 percent of the snaps once after Week Eight, and only under 64 percent in the game in which he left early because he suffered a nasty-looking concussion against the Cleveland Browns.
Despite working with three different quarterbacks, Johnson was able to flash no matter who was throwing to him, catching 59 passes on 92 targets for 680 yards and five touchdowns. The receptions and receiving touchdowns led the team, while the yardage was second.
In particular need of praise was his route-running and his elusiveness in space. He was among the league leaders in forced missed tackles outside of the running back position in 2019. We also saw that some in his capacity as the punt returner later in the year, which culminated in a touchdown.
Of course, he’s not a finished product yet, either. He still drops passes—both Pro Football Reference and my own charting have him down for six, and I flagged one other back in Week One as a play of interest—and he fumbled four times, which is really unacceptable. But it’s hard to imagine him not developing into quite a good wide receiver, as early as year two. I think he’s worth the optimism.