If there was one minor advantage for the Pittsburgh Steelers in having their bye week this past week rather than when it was scheduled, it was that they had the opportunity to allow second-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson, ostensibly already one of their best players, make it through the concussion protocol without missing a game.
Even after missing most of the team’s last game after suffering a concussion in the middle of the second quarter, Johnson has a decisive lead in the total target count. Ben Roethlisberger has looked his way 25 times so far this season (23 in the first two games alone), and nobody else has even 20. JuJu Smith-Schuster is next at 19. James Washington has 15, Eric Ebron 14.
When Roethlisberger was asked earlier today about Johnson beginning to get more attention from defenses this year, he said, “well, he should be getting attention. He’s a heck of a football player with an incredible skill set, so he’s deserving of the attention he’s getting”.
Although his 25 targets have only yielded 14 receptions so far this year, indicating that there is still work to be done with the chemistry between Roethlisberger and Johnson, there is a clear affinity to look his way, because he is the one who consistently gets open. He is (narrowly) third on the team with 149 yards, with one of the team’s seven receiving touchdowns.
A third-round pick in 2019, Johnson didn’t get much time to work with Roethlisberger a year ago, since the latter suffered a season-ending elbow injury back in week two. The then-rookie receiver also missed large portions of the offseason due to a variety of ailments, and ended up having surgery in the offseason to address a groin injury.
Considering the odds of JuJu Smith-Schuster finding a new home in free agency in 2021, there is a reasonable possibility that Johnson will be viewed as the Steelers’ top wide receiver by next year, with Washington and rookie Chase Claypool supplementing him, plus the addition of another draft pick.
It’s important that Johnson and Roethlisberger get the work in now.
The catch rate of just 56 percent between the two is the lowest on the Steelers right now beyond any player with more than two targets. You need to be finding your favorite target at a much higher rate than that—closer to 70 percent is much more desired.
Of course it doesn’t help that Johnson does have some hands issues, and he is credited with at least two drops so far this season. But there are definitely some rhythm and chemistry issues to be addressed within the relationship. I do think they will get there, and relatively soon.