Coming off of a rather disappointing — for his standard — season in which he didn’t score a single touchdown on 147 targets, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is facing a significant amount of criticism from the black and gold faithful.
Johnson, who signed a lucrative two-year, $36.71 million contract extension in early August ahead of the 2022 season, hauled in 86 passes for 882 yards but failed to find the end zone on the year, setting a record in NFL history for most receptions without a touchdown.
The veteran receiver also had some issues with drops — which have been largely overblown again — and had some struggles with his emotions at times, leading to serious criticism from vocal members of not only the fanbase, but the media as well.
For former quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who appeared on the 102.5 WDVE Morning Show Thursday, there’s no merit to the criticism Johnson has received in the past and is receiving now.
“No, not at all,” Roethlisberger said when asked if there was any validity to the bust label being tossed around regarding Johnson. “You get frustrated. He was frustrated this year. I’m sure the fans are frustrated. He just signed a contract. You want big touchdowns and big plays. …Let’s give it a year. Because Diontae — he can’t be covered. When he gets in and outta breaks, it’s unstoppable.
“So you got a guy that can use his shiftiness, get in and outta breaks, catch the balls when you need it, and then you have a guy in in George [Pickens] that can stretch the field and seems like he can catch any ball. Any 50-50 ball is his. So, I don’t think there’s any merit to what they’re saying. He had the down year because he didn’t catch any touchdowns. I expect a big bounce back, and I think as much of that comes with just the relationship with Kenny [Pickett] and Diontae.”
It’s understandable to see some of the criticism regarding Johnson just months after he signed the big extension, making him the 17th-highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL at $18.355 million per year, according to OverTheCap.com.
In the first few months after the extension — which kicks in for the 2023 season — Johnson struggled with the occasional drop, was running backward after catches, got into an argument in the locker room at halftime of the Week 4 loss to the New York Jets, and really wasn’t making the plays many became accustomed to with Johnson.
To his credit though, he kept his head down, focused on being a good leader in a young wide receiver room and really started to come alive once Kenny Pickett was inserted into the starting lineup. The lack of touchdowns was a bit surprising, considering how consistent he was in recent seasons finding the end zone.
It’s no secret the offense went through significant growing pains post-Roethlisberger in 2022. Johnson also failed to come up with at least two balls in the end zone on the season, but the calls to trade him or labeling him a bust are simply a bridge too far right now with Johnson and — like Roethlisberger says — have no merit whatsoever.