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: The third-year wide receiver continues to have a strong season, showing greater dependability as the now established number one on the team.
Another week, another game with big numbers. After a seven-catch, 101-yard, one-touchdown outing, Johnson came back with nine catches on Sunday for another 95 yards. He is now up to 68 receptions on the season for 809 yards as he continues to approach career-high numbers.
Last season, in 15 games, Johnson caught 88 passes for 923 yards, as well as seven touchdowns. He is currently on pace to catch 109 passes this year for 1,294 yards when factoring in the missed game across a 17-game season. He will need to pick up his scoring pace, however. Three of his four touchdowns came in his first four games.
One key difference this year that should be emphasized is that he has responded well to adversity. After that costly overtime fumble three weeks ago, he has caught 16 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown over the span of the past two games.
Granted, they have come in losing efforts, but the reality is that he is routinely one of the team’s top five players on the field any given Sunday, in all phases of the game. Since Week 2, he has caught at least five passes every game but one, for at least 50 yards, including over 70 yards in all but one of them.
With JuJu Smith-Schuster gone, Chase Claypool up and down from an availability and performance standpoint, and no stability in terms of play from the offensive line, Johnson is one of the few consistent bright spots on the offense.
And depending on the source, he has had great hands this year. PFF has him with one drop, PFR and others with zero. He’s also averaging a career-high 5.3 yards after the catch per reception, while also receiving a career-long 9.4 yards as his average depth of target.
Notably, he has four receptions of 40-plus yards on the year, and 11 explosive receptions, plus one explosive run. None of them came last week, however.