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Tale Of Two Ratings: The Vastly Different Outcomes Between George Pickens And Diontae Johnson

I’ve been playing around with Pro Football Reference’s Advanced Stat Finder over the last few weeks just to see what data is out there. It’s a cool feature that allows you to sort by virtually every stat imaginable. While QB rating feels antiquated to some, it’s still a useful baseline stat. And it speaks volumes about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ receivers last year.

Three Steelers wide receivers had 50+ targets in 2022: George Pickens, Diontae Johnson, and Chase Claypool. There was a clear difference when quarterbacks targeted Pickens versus Johnson and Claypool. Per PFR, here’s the QB rating when all three players were targeted.

QB Rating When Targeted, Steelers’ WRs (50+ Targets)

1. George Pickens – 109.3
2. Chase Claypool – 71.3
3. Diontae Johnson – 58.8

Pickens at the top, Johnson at the bottom with a lot of space in-between. The catch percentages between the two weren’t much different, Pickens 61.9%, Johnson 58.5%. But the efficiency offered a stark contrast. More big plays from Pickens. More touchdowns from Pickens. Johnson was infamously shut out of the end zone, setting an NFL single-season record for most receptions without a TD.

In fact, Johnson’s QB rating was the second worst in the entire NFL of those with 50+ targets. He was only ahead of…Chase Claypool, who bettered his number in Pittsburgh but fell off a cliff in Chicago. His season total across the two teams came out to just 57.5.

Of course, the numbers don’t offer full context. Johnson had his struggles but was misused by Matt Canada, glued to the sideline, which limited his YAC opportunities. While the stat looks bad, it’s not meant to bash Johnson. He’s a talented player who probably gets a little too¬†much guff from the fan base and there’s every reason to believe his production will bounce back in 2023. His QB rating is previous years has been good, between 90 and 96 his first three seasons, so consider this an anomaly.

But we’re looking at that baseline, seeing where he’s leaving off, in order to make that assessment for the fall. Can Pickens keep his great number up? As his route tree expands and he’s asked to do less vertically where big plays can be a boom to QB ratings, his number will probably come down. Honestly, that might not be a bad thing. It means his route tree is more varied, that he’s more than a one-note receiver in this Steelers’ offense.

It’s just going to be one of many numbers to watch for this year.

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