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2021 Offseason Questions: How Many Targets Could Diontae Johnson See If JuJu Smith-Schuster Leaves?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How many targets could Diontae Johnson see if JuJu Smith-Schuster leaves in free agency?

All things considered, it’s somewhat remarkable how heavily Diontae Johnson was targeted last season. He entered the year having had minimal experience working with Ben Roethlisberger, playing behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, who had a well-established rapport and a history of a high volume of targets. Add in the fact that he missed time, and his target number is even more striking.

Even though he technically only missed one game, he also missed the majority of two others, during which he received a total of three targets. In all, he finished the season with 144 total targets, and only four game in the season finale with Mason Rudolph starting.

So he played 12 full games with Roethlisberger at quarterback, during which came 137 of his 144 targets. You average that out and you get a total of 11.42 targets per game, which translates to 182.67 targets over a full 16-game season.

Roethlisberger will only have even more trust in Johnson this year, and Smith-Schuster’s 128 targets will have to find new homes. A large percentage of those targets will inevitably come his way. Could he realistically approach 200 targets? It’s only been done five times since the target statistic began being tracked in 1994, most recently by Julio Jones in 2015. Antonio Brown was targeted 193 times in 2015 as well.

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