I’m not sure if this can really be considered a ‘breakout’ season, but Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is certainly having the best year of his young career so far, both in terms of numbers and in his role. He is now established as the number one receiver, and the go-to target for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and has had pretty consistent production, as well.
Pro Football Focus recently argued that he is one of the best wide receivers in the NFL, beyond the fact that he has 81 receptions for 990 yards and six touchdowns on the year. Doug Kyed spoke with the third-year pro about his season, his routine, what makes him special, and how he got over the drops.
After leading the league with double-digit drops last year, which became severe enough at one point that it actually got him benched, Johnson has been pretty sure-handed this season, albeit with the occasional lapse. He had a dropped touchdown at the end of the first half last week, only to come back with two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help win the game and topple the Baltimore Ravens. He knows that may not have been the same result a year ago.
If I drop the ball, I’ve got to move on from it instantly. Can’t have no setbacks. Once I do that I’m still locked into the game. I’m able to forget about that last drop, obviously if it was a big play, yeah, I want it back, but I can’t do nothing about it. Only thing I can do is progress. I’ve been doing that, showing that on film that I’m capable of responding in a positive way. I feel like that’s been a big impact for me, too, just to be able to respond in those moments. That shows maturity and growth, because a lot of people can’t handle that. I sure couldn’t handle it as well last year as I’m able to now
With three drops on the season on 127 targets, Johnson has a drop rate of just 3.6 percent this season, ranking ninth among qualifying wide receivers, according to PFF. Only the likes of Stefon Diggs, Davante Adams, Adam Thielen, Terry McLaurin, and Tyler Lockett have shown more secure hands this year among those at his position who play prominent roles.
“I got great hands, so I’m never doubting that”, Johnson said during another section of the conversion when discussing what traits make him stand out. He largely focused on his route-running and change of direction, though it’s important that he also talks about how he believes his hands are a cut above.
This year, they have been, and so much of that has just been learning mentally to move on to the next rep and drown out the noise. Something that was passed down to him from the late Darryl Drake, who pounded the table to draft him in 2019, and who sadly passed away during his rookie training camp. “Shut Out The Noise”, one wristband his former receivers wear. Another: “Never Choose Good When Great Is Available”.