The Pittsburgh Steelers used an early third-round draft pick in 2019 that they got as part of a trade to send wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders to, essentially, draft his replacement, grabbing Diontae Johnson out of Toledo with the 66th pick.
Brown had been quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target for the better part of the decade, establishing not just a rapport, but numbers that few other duos in NFL history have ever rivaled, including a remarkable six-year run with 100-plus receptions for 1250-plus yards and eight-plus touchdowns.
Roethlisberger and Johnson might not ever quite have that connection—frankly, they likely won’t even have that same length of time together—but now that they are finally able to get some serious playing time in with one another, we are seeing the results.
Johnson just recorded his first two 100-yard games in back to back weeks, including a 111-yard game today, which also featured 12 grabs, his first game of 10-plus receptions in his career. Over the past two weeks, he has 18 receptions for 227 yards and a touchdown.
“Really, it’s just him trusting me to be in the right spot”, he receiver said after the game about his connection with Roethlisberger as it continues to grow. “We talk about that all the time in practice, being in the right spot, and he’s gonna put the ball where it needs to be. We’ve just got to make a play on it”.
Johnson was also asked if he feels that Roethlisberger deserves to be in the running for the MVP award this season, now with 24 touchdown passes over 10 games to just five interceptions and over 2500 passing yards. “MVP? I would say yeah, in my opinion, because that’s my quarterback, I’m all in with him”, he said. “I hope he wins it, whether he’s running up for it or not. I hope he wins it regardless, because that’s my quarterback”.
Johnson does not lead the Steelers in any statistic except for targets, now with 81 on the season, six more than JuJu Smith-Schuster. But Smith-Schuster has 58 receptions to his 49, and Chase Claypool has 559 receiving yards with eight touchdowns to his 537 and four.
But considering the fact that he basically missed three games—playing 25 snaps with three targets and one reception for minus-two yards over a three-game stretch—due to injuries, his numbers are notable for being on the rise.
Over the past five games since returning from injury, the second-year man has caught 34 passes on 55 targets for 390 yards and three touchdowns. If you want to prorate that over a full season, it comes to 109 receptions for 1248 yards and 9-10 touchdowns. And that includes one oddity in which he caught just one pass for six yards. He has at least six catches for 77-plus yards in the other four.