Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson was surprisingly only targeted two times on Sunday against the Denver Broncos, though it did come in a game in which quarterback Ben Roethlisberger attempted only 25 passes. They certainly counted, however; he caught both of them for 72 yards and a touchdown.
It’s the third time in four games he’s gotten into the end zone as he heads toward the best season of his career. He sits at 25 receptions for 305 yards and three touchdowns, on pace for a 100-catch, 1,220-yard, 12-touchdown season if he continues to put up the same numbers for the rest of the season without missing time. He’s shown a newfound dependability in his game, but one not surprising for head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Diontae is just going through the natural maturation process that we expect guys to go through”, he said of Johnson earlier today during his pre-game press conference. “He’s no longer a rookie. He’s been in some circumstances and situations. He’s understanding the game better. I think it’s allowing him to play faster. He’s finding his rhythm as a professional”.
The most obvious metric is the fact that he has gone from being benched because of drops, leading the league in dropped passes last season, to being among the most surehanded players in the NFL through five weeks this season. He has not dropped a single pass on 37 targets so far this year, and has been productive along the way.
“I see him every Tuesday [taking care of his body on the training table] before I come in here and visit with you all”, Tomlin said. “I think he’s finding the rhythm in his professional preparation process, whether it’s formally like in practice settings, or whether it’s informally like what he does with a Tuesday. It’s reasonable to expect guys to grow and make more plays and develop better consistency as they find a steadiness in life, and I think that’s just where he is”.
A third-round pick out of Toledo in 2019, Johnson has grown steadily in his three seasons. As a rookie, he spent most of the year playing without Roethlisberger at quarterback. His second season was played amid a pandemic. This is the most stable environment he’s been in since he was drafted.
We saw the amount of time that he invested in improving himself this offseason, including an extensive amount of training that he put in working on his hands, but there’s a lot of work involved that doesn’t get shown, that’s internal, mental. That’s only reflected in the consistency of his work.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster now gone, he and Chase Claypool are the top dogs on the field, with James Washington coming in for a bigger role. He must continue to maintain the growth he’s shown thus far, and be the reliable target this offense needs him to be, in order for the team to have success.