You don’t have to be great at what you do to be able to teach others how to do something. And you don’t have to be able to teach others well in order to be great at something. As it translates into sports, it is an errant belief to assume that great players will also be great leaders—at least conventional leaders.
Not everybody even seeks that role, and you can’t just fall into it through seniority. Some players are just players, and that’s all they are trying to be. That is where third-year wide receiver Diontae Johnson falls, and fortunately for the Steelers, he’s been doing that pretty well this season.
“I just let my play do the talking. I’m not a vocal leader, so I’m not gonna act like I’m one”, he told reporters yesterday after relaying to him that others have commented on how his is an example others follow with respect to the work he puts in. “I just like to go out there and make plays and do my routine. If someone wants to work extra with me, come on. Other than that, I’m just trying to play”.
A third-round pick out of Toledo, Johnson has had a consistent work ethic throughout his professional career, which even started with him working out with Antonio Brown. As you might recall, Brown was traded away by the time Johnson was drafted—in fact, Johnson was selected with one of the draft picks they got in return for Brown.
But it wasn’t Brown’s work ethic that rubbed off on him. He was always that way, he said. And he was never the type to stand up and take over. He just did his work. “Growing up, even high school, college, never been the type to be a vocal leader”, he said. “I just go out there and make plays. I don’t say too much. I just like to go out there and help the team win. That’s all I’m here for. That’s what I’m gonna keep doing”.
That’s all he’s been doing this year—at least, for the most part, minus a fumble and a drop or two here and there. He had a drop on a deep touchdown in the first half on Sunday, but finished the game with over 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He’s on pace for over 110 receptions this year with over 1,300 yards, and could push near double digits for scores if he continues his recent trends.
His play has, of course, only become more important this year in the absence of JuJu Smith-Schuster, and without Chase Claypool taking over like many thought that he could in year two. Johnson has been the closest thing to a consistent presence when healthy and on the field. That’s a testament to the work he puts in, and his ‘just go make plays’ attitude. All the rest doesn’t matter if you’re not helping your team win.