Overall, the 2020 season was one that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson would like to forget and move on from quickly. While he did catch 88 passes for 923 yards and seven touchdowns in his second NFL season, Johnson also led the NFL in drops as well. Recently, Johnson talked to Teresa Varley about his 2020 season and what all he’s looking forward to now in 2021.
“I saw progress in all aspects of my game,” said Johnson, per Varley. “In my route running, knowing the game more, route coverages. Everything. Just by you knowing the coverage of the defense it lets you know what moves you need to make, what release you need to take, how much depth you need to get in your route. All those things come together just by you knowing the coverage of the defense. It allows you to play more smoothly and do not have to think. I have matured at every level, high school, college, and now. I feel like my play showed that this year.”
Due to the roller coaster season that Johnson had in 2020, it’s not shocking that he caught hell on social media throughout the season. He admitted he probably paid too much attention to that.
“I let it get in my head,” said Johnson. “I see people on social media bash my name. It’s not like you don’t see it. It’s there. It’s hard to put it to the side, but when you see it, it’s going to be in the back of your mind. That is how it got a hold of me. I tried not to think about it. But it’s in the back of my mind during practice. In the games I am like, ‘Bro, catch the ball.'”
Due to the drops he suffered last season, Johnson was effectively benched for the better part of a game and he talked about that with Varley during his recent interview.
“By Coach Tomlin pulling me out of the game, doing it like he did it, once he did that, I knew I had to tighten up and catch the ball,” said Johnson. “Point blank period. If nothing else I have to catch the ball. I had to get my mind right. I didn’t throw a temper tantrum or anything, that isn’t how you handle certain situations. Everyone handles things their own way. No matter what it is, someone is going to critique you. You just add it to the fire.”
One of biggest things that Johnson said he learned in 2020 was that everyone is going to critique no matter how he plays. He told Varley he often reminds himself of what his late position coach Darryl Drake always told the Steelers wide receivers: “Just shut out the noise.” He said once he followed that advice that he started getting back to playing football the way he knows how he can play.
It will certainly be interesting to see how Johnson rebounds in 2021. He’ll be the Steelers primary X wide receiver again, which could lead to him being the highest targeted player on offense in the passing game. Johnson does well when it comes to getting separation off the line and he made several tough catches last season, just as he did during his rookie season. If Johnson can decrease his drops quite a bit, he might just have a 100-catch season in 2021 and 1,000 yards receiving to boot. He has the talent to accomplish that and especially with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back in 2021.
“I bounced back,” Johnson said of his 2020 season. “I had to bounce back. I had a lot of eyes on me, people counting on me. I couldn’t fold. I came too far to just go into the gutter. I had to come back and show them I am still Diontae Johnson. I showed that and will continue to show that this upcoming season.”