The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Diontae Johnson will get his 1000 yards in 2020.
Explanation: The second-year wide receiver was the only one on the roster to play in all 16 games last season. He finished the year first on the team with 59 receptions and five receiving touchdowns, and second in receiving yards with 680—with pretty much all of that coming from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, and playing earlier than was the plan.
For a lot of people, I expect this to be an easy buy. Johnson is primed to become a favored target of Ben Roethlisberger. There’s nobody he loves throwing to more than the guy who’s open. For years, that was Antonio Brown. Now Johnson is going to be that guy.
Putting up 680 yards while playing through injuries and fatigue in a somewhat limited role and with below-average play at the quarterback position, it’s really hard to even take the under on this. You can tell just by listening to the way that he talks that he is driven, and will not be denied as long as he is given the opportunity. He’s not phased by moments or by expectations—or the lack of expectations—other than that which he has for himself.
This is an immense oversimplification of the task at hand. Make no mistake: JuJu Smith-Schuster is still the top target. Nobody on this roster has more targets, catches, yards, or touchdowns from Roethlisberger than Smith-Schuster. He’s the guy the quarterback throws to when he needs a play to make. While Johnson gets open, Smith-Schuster makes the catches even when he’s not.
And the Steelers don’t have much history of producing multiple 1000-yard receivers. Smith-Schuster and Brown did it in 2018, when Roethlisberger threw well over 600 times. It also happened in 2011 and 2009, and then in back-to-back years in 2001 and 2002. Those were more concentrated offenses. This offense will have a good seven or eight legitimate targets to spread the ball around to, and with an aging quarterback coming off an injury.