In spite of the concerns with dropped passes, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson overall had a very encouraging sophomore season, basically his first year with the chance to work with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, who was done for the season by halftime of the second game.
He caught 88 passes on the year for 923 yards, the most on the team, along with seven touchdowns, all numbers that are improvements from his rookie year, though obviously he has to work on cleaning up his catch percentage—and doing so by eliminating the drops.
As you know, the young man’s drops got so bad at one point that head coach Mike Tomlin went so far as to bench him for the majority of the first half of the game against the Buffalo Bills. He dropped a ball on each of the first two drives in that game—after having at least two or more drops in each of the previous two games as well.
Since then, over the final three games of the season, he has caught 19 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns, making some big plays for the team down the stretch, including two grabs of 40-plus yards in the finale, and a momentum-swinging deep touchdown the week before that.
Earlier this week, Johnson admitted that part of his issue with drops is that it got to his head, as did all of the talk surrounding him, but he said that he has learned to block the outside noise and is taking things in the moment, no longer obsessing over a drop and moving on to the next play.
Tomlin was asked about the young receiver’s turnaround over the past few weeks, getting himself back on the right track and in a position to play a crucial role for the Steelers in the postseason. “It is important that we all, if we can, go into this single-elimination tournament on the upswing”, he said.
There are ups and downs over the course of the season and sometimes you are not afforded that opportunity”.
“You don’t get do-overs. It is what it is”, he added. “The tape is our tape and it is our walking, talking, breathing resume. It’s not about what we say, it’s about what we do. Through it all, I think he understands that, and he has not run away from that and I think that’s why his play is moving in the direction that it is moving”.
Johnson is a player who averages about 85 percent of the snaps per game as the primary starter opposite JuJu Smith-Schuster, with rookie Chase Claypool being the number three, insofar as there is a number three.
All three of them caught over 60 passes for more than 800 yards and at least seven touchdowns, certainly an impressive feat. The offense will need all of them to produce in order to make a run in the single-elimination tournament to come.