The Pittsburgh Steelers, to me, have one of the most intriguing groups of wide receivers in the league because of the ratio of potential to production that is one offer. Of the group, really only JuJu Smith-Schuster has accomplished something significant in his career, and he has transformed himself into a yeoman possession player for most of this season, working almost as an open-field back.
Yet players like Diontae Johnson, James Washington, and Chase Claypool are immensely talented, each in their own way, and have shown the ability to rise up with the best of them here and there in their relatively young careers. Claypool has had the flashiest start, but there’s a reason the ball keeps coming to Johnson, the Toledo Rocket.
“Diontae is as talented a player we’ve had here”, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told reporters on Thursday, via transcript. “He’s very skillful and, obviously, you know how exciting and electric he is when he has the ball in his hand. We’ve seen that in punt returns, we’ve seen that in open grass, catch and run situations. You’ve also seen it when he’s been asked to be used as a runner”.
Johnson averaged a pretty healthy 5.2 yards after the catch per reception last year, and his averaging 5.0 yards so far in 2020, though his average depth of target has been shallower, and he has not broken tackle at as high a rate (and he’s dropped balls at too high a rate).
But there isn’t an area of the game from a skill position standpoint in which we haven’t seen him excel. He’s been the possessions guy. He’s been the deep guy. He’s been the return man. He’s done the end-arounds with success. It’s rare that you have an athlete who can reverse field and you actually feel good about the chances of him making a play.
“I think, again, durability and availability is always going to be key”, Fichtner said in stating the obvious, which is actually somewhat interesting given that we are talking about a player who has only missed one game in his career so far. “I think it was unfortunate because he was on his way to a pretty solid camp and then all the sudden, he had a setback, so he missed some camp”.
Fichtner also mentioned other players like Derek Watt and David DeCastro who missed extended time in training camp due to injuries and how that differed this year than most for reasons we all know and don’t have to go into detail about.
Now with Johnson working his way back from his third different injury of the regular season, the offensive coordinator said, “I just think hopefully that’s behind, and we move on”. And that’s especially important this week against the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens.