Diontae Johnson being drafted early in the third round raised a lot of eyebrows among those outside of the league—and perhaps many of those in the league as well. A small wide receiver out of Toledo who also has some handling issues, he ended up being the 10th player taken at his position, the Pittsburgh Steelers using one of the picks that they got from the Antonio Brown trade to add him to their roster.
After one season, he has 59 receptions for 680 yards and five touchdowns under his belt. In a season in which Ben Roethlisberger played just six quarters, he led the team in both the former and latter categories, and was second in receiving yards. Things could have gone a lot worse.
He also led all rookie wide receivers with his 59 receptions, while his 680 yards ranked sixth, and his five touchdowns tied for seventh. Again, in a season in which Ben Roethlisberger played just six quarters. Even he, a rookie, said after the season that he was looking forward to getting him back and the offense back to the way it used to be. You know, the way he remembers it prior to halftime in Week Two.
Marquise Brown to the Baltimore Ravens. N’Keal Harry to the New England Patriots. Deebo Samuel to the San Francisco 49ers. A.J. Brown to the Tennessee Titans. Mecole Hardman to the Kansas City Chiefs. JJ Arcega-Whiteside to the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Isabella to the Arizona Cardinals. Parris Campbell to the Indianapolis Colts. And D.K. Metcalf to the Seattle Seahawks.
These are the 10 wide receivers, and the teams who drafted them, within the first 64 picks, the first two rounds, of the 2019 NFL Draft. You’re probably familiar with most of them, if not all. Some of them had great rookie years, like Brown and Metcalf. Samuel and Hardman are gearing up to be meaningful contributors in the Super Bowl.
Johnson knows them. And he knows they were taken ahead of him.
“I keep track with most of those guys. Most of them I know”, he told the team’s website. “Everybody has been playing well from what I’ve been seeing. That’s what we all talked about, when everybody gets to the NFL, we’ll see who stands out on each team. That’s what we’ve been doing. I’m trying to come out on top”.
Some of those guys did deal with quarterback changes—Campbell had his retire, Brown’s was benched, but replaced with the league leader in quarterback rating—but none more dramatic than the shift the Steelers experienced going from Roethlisberger to Mason Rudolph, then to Devlin Hodges, back to Rudolph, and then Hodges again.
The line of thinking is, if he was able to do this as a rookie with two different quarterbacks who had never thrown a professional pass in a meaningful game prior to the season, what can he did in a full year with Roethlisberger? After all, he received pre-draft comparisons to Antonio Brown…