Who is the key homegrown player for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020? According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, its wide receiver Diontae Johnson, the team’s first of two third-round draft picks in 2019.
Below is Rosenthal’s reasoning for choosing Johnson as the Steelers key homegrown player for 2020:
Not liking Diontae Johnson is like not liking ice cream. What’s not to like? Gaining 650 yards as a rookie wideout is impressive, but it’s how Johnson did it that makes him look like a future star. On nearly every grab, he makes a defender miss after the catch. His fast footwork is incredible, helping him to beat man coverage and score very high in old buddy Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception model. Johnson also figures to benefit if every other pass this season isn’t thrown 10 feet over his head. Don’t be shocked if JuJu Smith-Schuster’s status as the Steelers’ No. 1 receiver gets threatened by another fleet-footed outside wideout with some Antonio Brown-like traits.
Rosenthal’s choice of Johnson is certainly understandable. After all, the Toledo product led all rookies in receptions in 2019 and he showed great ability to separate against man-coverage throughout the season on his way to registering 50 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns.
Is Johnson now primed for a 1,000-yard sophomore season with the Steelers? It’s certainly possible and especially with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being back in 2020 after missing most of the 2019 season with a serious elbow injury.
— Steelers Depot 🏆👑 (@Steelersdepot) May 28, 2020
Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports and the creator of the Reception Perception talked at the end of May about why he’s bullish on Johnson and why he might be primed to have a 1,000-yard receiving season in 2020.
“Johnson is probably my biggest riser after charting, because it was just amazing to see how much easy separation he got,” Harmon said. “This is the guy who finished in Reception Perception at the 88th percentile in terms of success rate versus man-coverage, and the 81st against press. And I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth teasing this point out, that since 2014, over the last six NFL seasons of charting players, if you finish above the 85th percentile in success rate versus man-coverage, you’re extremely likely to have a 1,000 yard season at some point in your career.”
In his early 2020 stat predictions that were released a few weeks ago, Mike Clay, an NFL prognosticator for ESPN, had Johnson down for 66 receptions for 780 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers feel way too conservative based on what Johnson did as a rookie and without the luxury of having a quarterback such as Roethlisberger most of the season. If Johnson and Roethlisberger both stay healthy in 2020, the former should easily crack the 80 reception mark and maybe even make a legitimate run at becoming just the 13th different player in Steelers history to record 1,000 or more receiving yards in a season.