On a recent episode of the CBS Sports Fantasy Football Today Podcast, host Adam Aizer and fantasy football analysts Dave Richard and Dan Schneier started the show talking about the players they expect to be “busts” during the 2022 fantasy football season. This segment wasn’t to say that these players would be terrible next season, but rather that the analysts don’t expect their chosen players to perform up to the level of their average draft position (ADP) where they would have to be selected in fantasy drafts prior to the regular season.
When Dave Richard was asked who he expects to bust from the WR position on the podcast which was also featured on YouTube, he listed none other than Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson.
“The headliner on my bust list? I would have to go with Diontae Johnson,” Richard led off when asked who is the biggest name on his bust list for 2022. “I think his success was a byproduct of Ben Roethlisberger doing what he wanted to do on offense. I really believe that the Steelers would let Ben whom they trust to run the offense. I think their offense looks a lot different this year, and I think that they try to spread the ball around a little bit more. George Pickens is going to end up mattering.”
There is no denying that Johnson was the apple of Ben Roethlisberger’s eye the last two seasons as the starting QB of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Given the nature of Ben’s dink and dunk passing game predicated on getting the ball out quick, Johnson was hyper-targeted in the passing game playing the X receiver position like former Steelers WR Antonio Brown was when he was the go-to target for Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ passing game. In fact, in 29 games with Ben Roethlisberger under center for Pittsburgh from 2020 to 2021, Johnson got 296 targets from Ben during that time. This comes out to over ten targets a game, making Johnson one of the most targeted receivers in football during that span.
Still, while targets are earned due to a receiver’s ability to separate from coverage, many including Richard think that Ben was hyper targeting Johnson often as a passer, looking to get the ball out quick to avoid taking a hit due to his lack of mobility in the pocket. Seeing as the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a new QB under center in 2022, the massive target share Johnson has seen the last two years with Ben at the helm may drop due to other options like George Pickens and Calvin Austin III being added to the offense as well as the need to get Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, and Najee Harris all involved in the passing game.
“Diontae Johnson has only made it in fantasy based on the high target volume that he has,” Richard continued on the topic of Johnson being a fantasy bust. “He actually does not rate well in things like yards after catch per reception, explosive play rate, yards per route run compared to the elite wide receivers that settle in in fantasy points where Diontae Johnson settles in in fantasy points. I think that target share goes down. I don’t expect him to be near as good in half PPR, especially in full PPR as he has been in the past.”
When it comes to the advanced receiving statistics, Richard is right by saying that Johnson isn’t the most impressive #1 WR compared to his peers. Last season, Johnson averaged 4.9 yards after catch per reception, 8.5 yards average depth of target, 10.9 yards per reception, 1.95 yards per route run and 6.9 yards per target according to Playerprofiler.com. Currently, Johnson’s ADP is 39th overall, or beginning of the fourth round in full PPR fantasy football drafts according to Fantasy Pros. For comparisons sake, Bengals WR Tee Higgins is slotted in at 35th overall in ADP and average 3.9 yards after catch per reception, 12.1 average depth of target, 14.7 YPR, 2.43 yards per route run and 9.9 yards per target.
Diontae Johnson tied Davante Adams as the second-most targeted player in football last season, trailing only All-Pro WR Cooper Kupp. Expecting Johnson to command that type of target share again in 2022 with Roethlisberger gone may be wishful thinking with either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett expected to be under center at QB. While Trubisky did enable Allen Robinson to two 150+ target seasons while in Chicago, it remains to be seen who he develops chemistry with in training camp and in the preseason, and that’s if Pickett or Mason Rudolph doesn’t beat him out for the job.
While it should be expected that Johnson’s target share should decrease next season, we should also expect his efficiency to increase with Roethlisberger no longer at QB. Johnson has shown time and again that he can win down the field which Ben struggled to do in the final years of his career, rather opting for Johnson as a shorter-area target where he could get the ball out quick. Given Trubisky and Pickett’s ability to extend plays with their legs and attack downfield with a more youthful arm than Ben last season, we could see Johnson’s efficiency spike in 2022 in terms of yards per route run, ADOT, yards per target, yards per reception, etc.
Overall, as Johnson is going in the fourth round on average in fantasy football drafts at this stage, it seems like fair value given what Johnson has shown us this far and what we should expect going forward. We shouldn’t expect his targets to crater in 2022, although some expected regression could bring down his value. Still, his usage down the field and on more high-value targets down the field should boost his efficiency metrics compared to his first three seasons if Pittsburgh’s passing attack doesn’t take a nosedive this season. Johnson needs to have a great season if he hopes to cash in like the elite WRs who have done so this offseason, and fantasy managers are hoping for the same results.
What are your thoughts on Diontae Johnson ahead of the 2022 season? Do you think that he will be a fantasy bust? What is your reasoning? Will he be better or worse now without Ben under center? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!