Now that the 2020 regular season has begun, following a second consecutive season in which they failed to even reach the playoffs, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the season as it plays out. Who is making plays? Who is missing them? Who is losing snaps? Who is struggling to stay on the field?
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR Diontae Johnson
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: Though he continues to display some warts that are a cause for concern, namely ball security and failure to catch some passes that he should, Johnson has shown through two weeks of working with Ben Roethlisberger that he is already a favored target whose effectiveness will only expand, and one of the most elusive wide receivers in the NFL with the ball in his hands.
Diontae Johnson has already been targeted 23 times through two weeks. That would translate to 184 targets over a full season—which would be more targets than Antonio Brown ever saw in any but one of his seasons—the year of his highest catch total of 136 in 2015.
It’s not about the targets, of course, but about the fact that it’s a clear demonstration that he has earned Ben Roethlisberger’s confidence—and even that, as the quarterback admitted after Sunday’s game, is still growing.
Johnson already accounts for 31.5 percent of Roethlisberger’s 73 targets on pass attempts this year—and that includes a throwaway and three batted passes. So if you want to do his 69 ‘aimed’ passes, Johnson actually accounts for a full third of Roethlisberger’s targets.
And yes, he botched an end-around. Yes, he failed to come up with a key third-down reception, even though the ball was thrown behind him. But he had multiple plays in which he picked up first downs on short throws by making defenders miss. He made a fantastic adjustment at the back of the end zone for a touchdown. And his punt return score that was called back was simply Dante Hall-esque.
This is a legitimate talent that we are watching develop on a weekly basis, which is what personally makes his mistakes all the more frustrating. He’s probably never going to compete for the best hands in the NFL, but he’s going to get open a lot, and make a lot of catches, for a lot of yards, and find himself standing in the end zone with the ball a fair bit.