On a recent edition of the CBS Fantasy Football Today Podcast with host Adam Aizer and analysts Dave Richard, Jamey Eisenberg, and Heath Cummings, the four were posed a question at the end of the segment regarding Pittsburgh WR Diontae Johnson and the concern for a potential drop in targets going from Ben Roethlisberger to either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett in 2022. Johnson was tied for second in the league last season with 169 targets, so it could be expected that he won’t garner such a heavy target share compared to last season.
Still, the analysts point out that while it may be Pittsburgh’s intention to spread the ball around more this season, Johnson may prove to be a reliable target to either potential starting QB to warrant another heavy target share this season with Ben no longer the starter. In fact, Heath Cummings went so far as to say that his concern for Diontae Johnson due to the QB change doesn’t match his concern for Pittsburgh’s #1 fantasy football player: RB Najee Harris.
“I’m less worried about Trubisky and Pickett for Diontae than I am about them for Najee,” Heath Cummings said in on the podcast at the 58:00-mark which also in on the company’s YouTube Channel.
When you zoom out and look at the situation, it’s understandable why Cummings would be more concerned for Najee Harris over Diontae Johnson with the next QB situation in Pittsburgh. Last season, Ben Roethlisberger checked the ball down to Najee Harris frequently, leading to him breaking the team’s rookie reception record with 74 receptions. We can all remember back to his Week 3 performance against the Bengals where Najee caught 14 passes on 19 targets for 102 yards, feeding enough catches in PPR scoring to lead him to a great performance as far as fantasy points are concerned.
Still, as I mentioned in a previous article detailing the concern of Najee’s potential drop-off in passing down work in 2022, both Trubisky and Pickett haven’t been the check-down kings that Ben Roethlisberger has been the last couple of seasons. Combine that with the fact that both guys are far more mobile than Ben, we could see either QB choose to tuck and run the ball himself if he sees daylight rather than immediately looking to check down the ball to Harris in the flat like Ben did so often in 2021.
However, we shouldn’t expect Najee’s role as a pass catcher to crater completely given the prowess he showed in that role last season. In fact, we may see his usage increase in terms of ADOT and usage in the screen game, something that Pittsburgh hasn’t done often with Big Ben under center. Also, it should be noted that both QBs have shown a propensity to get the RB involved in the passing game, as Trubisky did heavily target the likes of David Montgomery and Tarik Cohen when in Chicago. The Pitt Panther running backs combined for 55 receptions in 2021, equating to a little over 16% of Pickett’s completions in his final college season according to Sports Reference.
Najee Harris held a 14% target share last season, meaning that while some regression as a pass catcher may be expected from a reception standpoint, his total receptions shouldn’t crash like some are leading us to believe. I plan to complete a full fantasy football stats projection for Harris as well as the other primary fantasy options for Pittsburgh in the coming weeks prior to the start of the regular season.
What are your thoughts on Diontae Johnson and Najee Harris as pass catchers heading into 2022? Do you think that the change in QB will affect both heavily, or not as much as some people expect? Who do you think will be most affected by the QB change, and what is your reasoning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!