Although he had his backers, when the Pittsburgh Steelers used the 66th-overall picks on Diontae Johnson in the 2019 NFL Draft, it wasn’t exactly met with great acclaim. A smallish wide receiver out of Toledo, not exactly a powerhouse college program or a powerhouse offense, it was just another wide receiver pick.
Even after his relatively strong rookie season, during which he caught 59 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns, he’s not being touted by most traditional media outlets as anybody special. Certainly not on any of those under-25 teams.
This is nothing new for Johnson, who sees himself as somebody who has always gone under the radar. It’s not important to him, because the acclaim and the accolades don’t have any impact on what he does, or what he’s capable of doing.
“It’s been like that since I was in college at Toledo”, he told reporters during a conference call yesterday”. “Everybody doesn’t really know me like that. I just have to keep doing what I am doing, keep working until they respect me. That stuff doesn’t faze me. Everybody doesn’t always have a story. They don’t know me and how I work. They can say whatever they want. I am still going to continue to be me and help the Steelers win”.
He did help the Steelers win last year, at least insofar as they had been winning. He certainly was not a liability, even if he did have some drops and loose balls. But it’s clear that he was an asset, probably the one player who demonstrated the ability to make his own plays on an offense that was so wounded it couldn’t manufacture much on its own.
Johnson isn’t heading into 2020 with the red carpet rolled out for him, by any means. But neither did Antonio Brown in 2011. And those are not unreasonable comparisons. Johnson was likened to Brown coming out of college.
This upcoming season will be the first in which he is really working with Ben Roethlisberger, and there’s a reason he liked to throw to Brown so much. Johnson possesses many of the same qualities that Brown does that allows him to succeed.
He told reporters that one of his goals for 2020 is to hit 1000 yards. I can definitely see that happening with relative ease, provided that both he and Roethlisberger are able to remain healthy and on the field. There are a lot of targets who will need attention, like JuJu Smith-Schuster and now Eric Ebron, but Johnson is going to be the guy who’s open when Roethlisberger needs an outlet.
We could be having a very different conversation about Johnson heading into 2021. A conversation taken up by the national media.