Diontae Johnson only played in 50 snaps during the first two games of his rookie season in 2019, making four total catches, one of which—his longest—came from Mason Rudolph. He caught three of five targets from Ben Roethlisberger during that time. All three came on third down and all three failed to convert.
Needless to say, these two weapons of the Pittsburgh Steelers offense still need time to work together, though through two games so far this year he has caught 14 passes on 23 targets for 149 yards and a touchdown. The catch percentage needs to tick up, but it will take both to work on the connection and make it the best it can possibly be.
This is what Roethlisberger talked about after Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, during which Johnson caught eight passes on a career-high 13 targets for 92 yards and a score, his first of the season after leading the team with five a year ago.
“It’s growing”, he said of his confidence and trust throwing to Johnson. “I need to get better. He’s doing a great job. He’s getting to the spots he’s supposed to be in. He’s incredibly special when he catches the ball, and we’ve seen some catches [on Sunday] that were unbelievable, and then once the ball is in his hands, what he can do”.
“He needs to just keep doing what he’s doing, because he’s doing a great job”, the 17-year veteran said of one of his youngest teammates. “I need to get better at trusting him that he’s gonna be in the spot he’s supposed to be, because he is, and part of that is just trusting myself, too”.
Of course, Roethlisberger himself is in somewhat new territory for him. He’s just 73 pass attempts into his ‘new’ elbow, so to speak, after he had three tendons in his elbow surgically reattached a little over a year ago. Prior to a little over a week ago, it had been a long time since he’d taken a hit.
While it’s a small sample size, to speak the obvious, right now Johnson and Roethlisberger are on-pace to put up some nice numbers together this year. if their current trajectory holds, they will produce something along the lines of 112 catches for 1192 yards and eight touchdowns, which is fairly reminiscent of the second-year jump JuJu Smith-Schuster had in 2018.
The second-year man has already established himself as Roethlisberger’s favorite target, on the receiving end of a full third of his aimed passes. He already has 23 targets to Smith-Schuster’s 14, and they are the only two players with more than seven so far on the year.