Connect with us

Steelers News

Steelers All 90: Diontae Johnson Sees Next Step as Elite WR



Steelers Diontae Johnson

Diontae Johnson has played at an above-average level for the Pittsburgh Steelers ever since the team drafted him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Johnson stepped into some big shoes in his first season in the NFL, as he was tasked with essentially replacing a Hall of Fame-worthy player in Antonio Brown.

While he did not put up All-Pro numbers in 2019, Johnson definitely flashed greatness in his play and showed why the Steelers drafted the Toledo product. Since his rookie year, Johnson has played at a level above most other receivers but also displayed some flaws that keep him out of the “elite” category of wide receivers.

Last season was no different for the up-and-down type of receiver as he set an NFL record for the most receptions (86) without a touchdown. This season, Johnson wants to change that narrative and become a “top-five” receiver in the league.

“Definitely All-Pro, Pro Bowl. Over 1,000 yards. Over 100 catches. Top 10, top 5. Saying that in the most humble way. Really, that is pretty much it,” Johnson said. “I pray over my goals. If I achieve them, I achieve them. If I don’t, I just keep working. At the end of the day that is all I can do.”

Wide receiver extensions are rare in the Steelers organization but the team extended Johnson to a short-term, big-money contract in 2022 and with him entering the first year of the extension, he and the team are expecting big things in 2023.

Most of Johnson’s success in 2023 will depend on the growth of Kenny Pickett but another set of growing factors exists in the Steelers offense. The emergence of George Pickens and the return of Calvin Austin III are likely to affect Johnson’s numbers. This glowing threat would cause most people to try to improve quickly to stay ahead of the competition but Johnson was just focused on himself in the offseason.

“I didn’t change anything, just trying to stay more conditioned,” Johnson said. “I tried to run a little more. Focus on routes, and catching the ball. I can always get better at every aspect of my game. Honed in on my footwork and trying to get a bit more crisp.”

Johnson said he was not the only one to set hefty expectations for the season as he claimed that Mike Tomlin is “really” going for a championship this year.

“[Coach Tomlin] wants us to start fast obviously,” said Johnson. “He’s real big on talking about chasing the championship this year. We’ve brought in a lot of players this year so I’m feeling really good about this season.”

Even with the emergence of Pickens and the lack of touchdowns for Johnson during the 2022 season, the fifth-year receiver will enter the season as the team’s top wide receiver and is likely to garner the most targets on the team.

18 • Diontae Johnson, Wide Receiver, Toledo
5-foot-10, 183 pounds, 26 years old, 5th Season

Acquired: The Steelers drafted Johnson with the 66th overall pick in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. The draft pick that was used to select Johnson was originally acquired in a trade that sent Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders.

Last SeasonJohnson appeared in and started all 17 games for the Steelers in 2022. He was targeted a season-high 12 times in Week 3 against the Cleveland Browns as he caught eight passes for 84 yards. His best game of the 2022 season came in Week 15 against the Carolina Panthers as he caught all 10 of his targets for 98 yards. Johnson failed to haul in a touchdown in 2022 but did catch a two-point conversion in the team’s final game of the season against the Browns.

In total, Johnson finished the season with a team-high 141 targets as he caught 86 passes for 882 yards and zero touchdowns. His 86 receptions without a touchdown set an NFL record for most receptions without a touchdown in a season.

Diontae Johnson looks for space as the Steelers face the Ravens on Jan. 1, 2022 in Baltimore. (Mitchell Northam / Steelers Now)

Diontae Johnson looks for space as the Steelers face the Ravens on Jan. 1, 2022, in Baltimore. (Mitchell Northam / Steelers Now)

CareerIn his first season, Johnson was targeted 86 times as he tallied 59 receptions for 680 yards and five touchdowns. Johnson recorded his first NFL appearance in Week 1 against the New England Patriots as he hauled in three passes for 25 yards. Johnson notched his first receiving touchdown in Week 3 against the San Fransisco 49ers. Following the season, Johnson was named NFL All-Pro Second-Team as a punt returner.

In his second season, Johnson began to show flashes of being a true No. 1 wide receiver. He was targeted 139 times and registered 88 receptions for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. In the playoffs, Johnson caught 11 passes for 117 yards during the Steelers’ Wild Card loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Johnson enjoyed his best season yet in 2021 as he set career highs in every statistical category. He was targeted 166 times and caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight touchdowns. In the Steelers’ Wild Card loss to the Kansas City Cheifs, Johnson registered five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown. He recorded three 100-yard games and was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2021.

Year GP Targets Receptions Yards AVG TDs
2019 16 86 59 680 11.5 5
2020 15 139 88 923 10.5 7
2021 16 166 107 1,161 10.9 8
2022 17 141 86 882 10.3 0

CollegeAfter playing quarterback and wide receiver while at Earl J. Lennard High School, Johnson committed to play college football at the University of Toledo. Johnson played in 11 games as a wide receiver and kick returner as a true freshman. He finished his freshman campaign with 14 receptions for 237 yards and three touchdowns. He added 32 kickoffs for an average of 22.8 yards per return.

Prior to the 2016 season, Johnson injured himself which resulted in him missing the entire season. Fortunately enough for Johnson, he was able to redshirt and preserve his sophomore eligibility.

In 2017, Johnson played in 11 games for the Rockets and recorded his best year in college. He finished the season with 74 receptions for a school-record 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns. He averaged a MAC conference-leading 148 all-purpose yards per game which also ranked seventh in the nation. Following the season, Johnson was named first-team All-MAC at wide receiver and punt returner and second-team All-MAC at kick returner.

As a redshirt junior in 2018, Johnson’s production dipped a fair bit but was still a very productive receiver. Johnson finished with 43 receptions for 663 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson still earned the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year award and was named to the first-team All-MAC at wide receiver and punt returner.

In total, Johnson tallied 131 receptions for 2,178 yards and 23 receiving touchdowns.

Year GP Receptions Yards AVG TDs
2015 11 14 237 16.9 3
2016 0 0 0 0 0
2017 11 74 1,278 17.3 13
2018 10 43 663 15.4 7

Salary cap and future: Johnson is entering the first year of his two-year extension that he signed with the Steelers in April of 2022. Johnson will cost $16.33 million against the Steelers’ 2023 cap space.

In 2023, Johnson’s cap hit includes a base salary of $8 million and bonuses that total up to be worth $8.33 million. Johnson is signed with the team through the end of the 2024 season when he will become an unrestricted free agent.

The rest of the 90: