There are plenty of rock-solid NFL players on each and every roster whose had work and effort seem to fall through the cracks, going unnoticed each and every week. No matter how impressive their stat lines are or how steady their play is, they never seem to get the dues that they deserve. Earlier today, Jeff Kerr at CBS Sports formulated his list of underappreciated players, and he honed in strictly on the AFC side of the fence. For the Steelers, a surprising name emerged in their Pro Bowl wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who is as steady as they come at the position but when I sit and think about it, his name is never in the same conversation with the Cooper Kupps, Tyreek Hills or Davante Adams’s of the league.
“Emerging as one of the game’s top young wideouts, Johnson registered 75-plus yards receiving in eight games in 2021, which was tied for the fifth-most in the NFL,” Kerr said on CBSSports.com. “He has recorded five or more catches in 12 straight games, which is the second-longest active streak in the NFL (Cooper Kupp has 21 straight).”
His stats seem to back up his positioning as one of the premier receiver talents in the league, as last year he produced 107 grabs for 1,161 yards and eight scores, and crossed the 1,000-yard barrier for the first time in his career. Perhaps that’s a reason why he’s not yet mentioned among the greats, as they’ve been producing these 1,000-yard measuring stick-type of seasons longer. Hill, for instance, will be gunning for his fifth 1,000-yard season next year with his new team, the Miami Dolphins.
Another interesting thing to analyze is the drops, which have seemed to plague Johnson throughout his short career thus far, especially during his sophomore season in 2020. That season, Johnson registered 13 drops, leading the entire league. However, last season he only dropped five passes, a vast improvement, but also showed it’s something he worked on during last offseason. It’s worth noting though that most of last season’s drops occurred in the final few games of the season, thus it’s fresh in our minds.
If you ask any Steelers fan, they will more often than not tell you DJ is very much appreciated, as he’s the team’s unquestioned go-to receiver and will be making the life of either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett a LOT easier next season. He’s a superb route runner, and his short career span of 254 catches, 2,764 yards and 20 touchdowns all put him on a short list of receivers who have achieved these numbers in this time frame.
These numbers are all very deserving of an extension, so it’s no wonder Johnson momentarily held out of OTA’s earlier this offseason to voice his displeasure. However, he finally showed up as he intends to put his best foot forward and honor his current contract. As his game continues to ascend, there’s no telling exactly how good he can be for this team as they look to break in a new quarterback next season. However, he should be heavily leaned on by whoever is under center, and although to some people he may be looked at as underappreciated, odds are those views will soon be changing, and so will the size of DJ’s bank account.