A case could very easily be made that Diontae Johnson is the most skilled wide receiver on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, no matter his faults. Matt Harmon and James Koh over at Reception Perception argue that he is actually one of the best young wide receivers in the league—and that his drops unfairly bias people against him.
“I feel like the slander on Diontae Johnson has gone way too far”, Koh said, after Johnson led the NFL in drops last season with 14, and ranked among the highest in drop percentage, though there are other very notable names up there with him.
“I don’t think drops matter that much, but sometimes they matter a lot, and that’s kind of where Diontae was last year”, Harmon said. “He had a ton of drops last year, and some of them were really bad in some really high-leverage situations”.
But he also did a lot of good, catching 88 passes for 923 yards and seven touchdowns, and saw a very high volume of targets whenever he was on the field because Ben Roethlisberger can plainly see that he is the one getting open consistently and posing a threat.
“If you’re gonna ding Diontae Johnson for drops, you better come with the same energy at guys like D.K. Metcalf, or A.J. Brown, or D.J. Moore”, Harmon said, noting that they all have similar drop rates or higher.
“These are all universally beloved young wide receivers, but because Diontae Johnson’s happen on primetime games, Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, frickin’ Wednesday Night Football, we all remember those moments, and we saw them, and we were like, ‘those are my fantasy points’”.
But they don’t match him in getting open. “Diontae Johnson is just as much of a young, promising player as these guys all are”, Harmon said, noting his success rates in a variety of scenarios. “77.7% against man coverage—95th percentile. 87.8% against zone—96th percentile. 76.9 against press—86th percentile. And this is an improvement on what he did as a rookie”.
“Johnson is just as promising as a developing number one receiver as those guys are, end rant”.
Now entering his third season after leading the Steelers in receiving yards, he will have to contend with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Eric Ebron, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris for targets, but that, frankly, shouldn’t be a problem.
While Johnson has always put some balls on the ground, going back to college, last year was a clear anomaly, and he has talked pretty openly about the fact that it very much became mental for him. He basically had ‘the yips’. And you can get over them.
And I think he will. In Matt Canada’s offense, as long as Roethlisberger stays upright, I fully believe that Harmon is on the mark about Johnson and his ability to be one of the top young receivers in the game, simply because he provides his own opportunities and knows what the do with them after the catch.