Steelers News

Growth Of Diontae Johnson ‘Expected And Needed’, Says Mike Tomlin

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson dropped more passes than anybody in the NFL last season. As a matter of fact, at one point it even got him benched for most of the first half of one game after he put two balls on the ground early on. But he started to bounce back from that then, and he’s only continued to grow in his third season.

Eleven games in, Johnson has 76 receptions for 914 yards and six touchdowns. He caught eight passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns for the Steelers on Sunday evening, both scores coming in the fourth quarter, to help put them over the top of the division-leading Baltimore Ravens, keeping their postseason hopes alive.

And yet, he had a drop in the first half of the game on what should have been a deep touchdown pass. Last year, it probably would have affected his play much more, as he acknowledged there was a mental component to it that he had to grow from. But he has, and it’s shown all year, as head coach Mike Tomlin discussed yesterday, regarding his mental resilience.

I just think it’s maturation. He’s becoming a veteran guy, and so it’s reasonable to expect him to get better physically, him to get better intellectually in terms of knowing and understanding the game and utilizing that knowledge for his good”, he told reporters.

“Also, just being able to withstand the ups and downs that is a game or a series or a season. We’re appreciative of his growth and development, but I don’t think anyone’s surprised by it. As a matter of fact, we expected it and we needed it”.

They have especially needed it given the fact that they have spent most of the season with JuJu Smith-Schuster on the Reserve/Injured List. And while Chase Claypool is capable of making the occasional big play here and there, he has not taken the sort of second-year leap many had hoped for, with 39 catches for 660 yards and just one touchdown.

Johnson currently ranks eighth in the NFL in receptions, and ninth in receiving yards. He ranks fifth in receptions and receiving yards per game. His six receiving touchdowns are tied for 14th. His career highs are 88 receptions, 923 yards, and seven touchdowns, so he is likely to surpass those marks within a couple of weeks.

As it currently stands, he is on pace to record 111 receptions for 1,329 yards and nine touchdowns. To put those numbers in a franchise perspective, they would rank, among non-Antonio Brown players, second behind Hines Ward in receptions, and tied for fourth, also with Ward, in yardage.

It’s fair to say that he’s stepped up. It’s also fair to say that he’ll probably be wanting paid this offseason. But would the Steelers sign him to a long-term extension heading into the final year of his rookie contract? If they do, it likely wouldn’t be until training camp.

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