The Steelers’ Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson appears poised to play out 2022 under his current rookie deal. However make no mistake, he is fully aware of the eye-popping contracts recently given out to other receivers like the four-year/$120 million given to the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill, or the absurd four-year/$72 million deal the Jaguars gave to Christian Kirk at the dawn of free agency. Coming off a season in which he posted 107 catches for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns, Johnson seems confident he can build off those numbers to substantiate a big payday this upcoming season. However, the muddled quarterback situation in the Steel City this season may play a part in some regression for Johnson, and count Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report among those believers, as he recently wrote.
The first thing he noted has to go right is the aforementioned QB situation to play out well, with apparent front-runner Mitch Trubisky showing he’s matured beyond his Chicago days and can be a fully-functional starting NFL QB. Either that, or if he falters, first-rounder Kenny Pickett proves to everyone why he was so hyped as the most pro-ready QB in the entire 2022 draft and capably takes the reins for the next decade and beyond.
There’s also another dilemma in that the front office went out and turned a wide receiving crops that was somewhat ravaged by free agency and turned it into a strength by adding George Pickens and Calvin Austin III via the draft. Johnson is the unquestioned #1, but with fellow starter Chase Claypool recently proclaiming he’s a top-three NFL wideout and one who possesses a freakish skillset, coupled with the talented rookies, is there enough touches for DJ to prove his worth? Also, keep in mind, talented second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth looms to eat into all of their touches, as a tight end is often looked upon as an inexperienced QBs security blanket.
“Even if Pittsburgh fields a top-10 passing attack, Trubisky and Pickett will have far too many options to focus on one pass-catcher,” Moton wrote. “That doesn’t bode well for Johnson, who wants to show that he’s one of the league’s top receivers.”
While DJ is an accomplished a route runner as one can find across all of the NFL, it might be very hard for him to play up to his lofty expectations in 2022. It’s very important that he’s not in a contract holdout, as the precious time spent at OTA’s and the upcoming training camp will no doubt help him build a strong rapport with the signal callers. However, the amount of mouths to feed in the aerial attack will be a major roadblock.