Bringing back a series I had a lot of fun exploring the last several offseasons. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.
Diontae Johnson: Become A More Effective Receiver Over The Middle (Including Fewer Drops)
No denying Diontae Johnson had a successful rookie season, pressed into action earlier and more often than anyone expected. Donte Moncrief’s stone hands will force a team to make quick changes.
Johnson’s hands weren’t perfect either though. Drops were an issue coming out of Toledo and carried over into the NFL. Ball security was an issue. Excluding quarterbacks, Johnson led the team with five fumbles. No one else had more than one. That’s pretty ugly. Taking care of the football is the #1 priority, something this offense didn’t do much of last season. Even though it was the only thing asked of them.
Beyond that, Johnson had six drops according to my charting and Fox Sports. Here’s a cut-up of them all below and you’ll sense a common theme. Five of the six came working over the middle.
Yes, some of these were contested, some of these were difficult (I’m already prepping for pushback for the one against the Rams) but that’s the life of an X receiver. Better be able to run the whole route tree and if the corner is playing outside leverage, you have to be able to win over the middle. These guys have to navigate traffic almost as well as slot receivers.
Johnson clearly has a bright future ahead of him. Working with Ben Roethlisberger is huge for reasons I don’t need to explain to Steelers’ fans. But he’ll need to be a more consistent, combat catcher working between the numbers to earn #7’s trust and take a sophomore leap.
And hey, me criticizing Johnson seems to be working out pretty well so far. Let’s see if it happens again.
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