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Studies Suggest That, Yes, Diontae Johnson is Open (But George Pickens Is Not)

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Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is open. Like, right now.

At any given time, Johnson is open, man. Just throw him the ball.

At least, that’s what ESPN’s Receiver Tracking Metrics suggest. Utilizing Next Gen Stats, ESPN developed its Receiver Tracking Metrics (RTMs) –– and the result is really, really cool.

Johnson ranks third in the NFL behind only A.J. Brown and Stefon Diggs in “Open Score” with a rating of 91. Per ESPN, “Openness is calculated on all routes — targeted or not — factoring in the route the receiver is running, coverage, leverage and defender positioning.”

Basically, when the ball is snapped, Johnson gets open. Period.

In fact, Johnson’s Open Score clocks in at a 91 among all receivers with at least 100 targets since 2017 –– the highest rating overall. Next closest is the Vikings’ Justin Jefferson (85) followed by the Saints’ Michael Thomas (83).

That’s insane.

Of course, ESPN’s RTMs don’t focus solely on openness. They also factor in a “Catch score” and a “YAC score,” and Johnson is just average-to-below-average in both of these categories (55 catch score, 43 YAC score in 2022).

That said, Johnson’s overall score of 75 still ties him with the Buccaneers’ Russell Gage for 10th place in the NFL in 2022.

It’s new technology and a new spread of statistics, so I understand if you’re a little skeptical.

But check out the rest of the Top 10:

  • Mark Andrews
  • Cooper Kupp
  • Tyler Lockett
  • Stefon Diggs
  • A.J. Brown / Ja’Marr chase (tied)
  • Davante Adams
  • Justin Jefferson / George Kittle (tied)
  • Johnson / Gage (tied)

Those are some elite pass catchers, no doubt.

Through three games, Johnson does lead the Steelers with 21 catches for 196 yards. His 21 receptions are tied for seventh in the league, but he ranks 25th in yardage, a point that showcases the Steelers’ dink-and-dunk offensive approach to date.

In fact, no receiver (or offensive player) has excelled for the Steelers in 2022, and that includes rookie George Pickens. Many pegged Pickens to be an Offensive Rookie of the Year contender, but that hasn’t been the case thus far in the Steelers’ 1-2 season.

Pickens has five catches for 65 yards through three games, including this absolute beauty during the Steelers’ Thursday Night Football showdown against the Browns:

Insane.

Good as that catch was, it’s … pretty much the end of Pickens’ 2022 highlight reel.

But to his credit, Pickens believes the best is yet to come. He felt he was open “90 percent of the time” against the Patriots –– but ESPN disagrees.

Complimentary as the RTMs were of Johnson’s game, the magic stat machines don’t like what they see from Pickens.

Through three games in 2022, Pickens earned a rating of 35 overall, with his open score at 28, the second-worst score among all qualifiers. Only Washington Commanders rookie Jahan Dotson is worse there, with a rating of 21.

Yikes. It’s safe to say Pickens was not, in fact, open 90 percent of the time.

And before you blame Mitch Trubisky for the rating, consider this from ESPN: “Skill of the quarterback is controlled for in Catch Score and, to a lesser degree, Open Score.”

So it’s not perfect, but quarterback performance is factored to a degree to yield a more accurate result.

Overall, look, they’re stats. They exist to provide some context, but they’re certainly not the final word on a receiver’s performance.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see how these metrics change when –– or if –– this Steelers offense can find its rhythm in the 2022 season.

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