Throughout the course of a season, Diontae Johnson has proven to be a frustrating and dynamic player at the same time for the Steelers offense. But regardless of how it usually shakes out, Johnson is the team’s top receiver and signed a big extension as a result of that last year.
One thing that Johnson really excels at is his route running. He consistently is ranked as one of the best route runners in the NFL. But there are some tendencies that arise that make you question what he is doing at times. Matt Harmon of Reception Perception discussed Johnson’s season and it is a dichotomy of highs and lows.
“You throw around the word elite too often and Diontae Johnson is not an elite player, he’s actually quite a flawed player,” Harmon said. “You mention the drops problem and it’s not as big a problem as it was in the 2020 season when he had an absurd drop rate. A lot of that is short little routes and that’s where most drops occur. The YAC stuff where he’s going backwards, like get down down field pal. He’s pretty high on the boneheaded play scale.”
While Harmon acknowledges that, the data says that Johnson is one of the game’s more valuable receivers and changes what defenses can do. As such, he believes Johnson is not only an elite route runner, but constitutes himself as a true number one receiver in this league to boot with that.
“That being said, you can absolutely use the word elite with his route running,” Harmon said. “He had an 85th percentile success against man, 88th percentile rate against zone, and an 84th percentile rate against press. Just checking on all the boxes, it’s one of his best seasons there. He went above the average on every route. He’s a misunderstood receiver. They think he’s a slot receiver but he’s played more X-receiver than anyone else over the last 3 years…He’s not one of the best receivers in the NFL or anything, but he is certainly what I think is, a really underrated player who is a true number one and can win at all three levels of the field.”
Harmon places the blame mostly on Matt Canada the quarterback play with the Steelers that have held Johnson back. As such, if the quarterback play can take a leap, Harmon thinks that Johnson can have the best season he’s had as a pro in 2023. But that consistency will have to come with it in order for the Steelers to really see the benefit of Johnson’s skillset.