Now that the regular season has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen and are seeing over the course of the offseason and the regular season as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future. A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasoning. In some cases, it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances, it will be a direct response to something that just happened. Because of this, we can and will see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: WR Diontae Johnson
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: After missing last week’s game due to a knee injury, wide receiver Diontae Johnson is trending in the right direction to return to the lineup for Sunday’s game.
The Steelers offense can use all the help it can get, so it’s certainly welcome news that third-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson is working his way back after missing the team’s last game due to a knee injury.
He originally suffered the injury during the season opener, but was able to return. He then reaggravated it on the final play of the Steelers’ second game, and did not practice at all the following week. He was a full participant in practice yesterday, however, after being limited the day before. If he practices in full again today, then there should be little doubt that he will be ready to go.
Outside of Johnson, the Steelers’ wide receivers have really struggled to generate separation in their routes, particularly Chase Claypool, with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s zone savviness helping him create space over the middle at times. But Johnson is by far their most naturally gifted separator.
And separation wins the day, when you have a quarterback who can find you, an offensive line that can give the quarterback the time to find you, and, of course, when you catch the balls that come to you. He has been catching them so far this year.
Johnson caught 14 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown during the first two games of the season, drawing 22 targets from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. You’d still like to see them connect on a higher percentage of his targets, but that’s on both of them, not just Johnson, if he’s not dropping them.
Getting him back in the lineup is certainly not going to be a cure-all for an offense that is desperate for some success and consistency, but at least he should be one target for Roethlisberger that will be reliably open.