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Steelers Analysis

Tale of the Tape: Comparing Diontae Johnson to Antonio Brown



At the height of his career as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, wide receiver Antonio Brown was far and away the best pass-catcher in the NFL.

In his six-year stretch of dominance with the Steelers, Brown was the only receiver in the league to register 100 catches in each of those seasons. Brown averaged an astonishing 114 catches, 1,524 yards and 11 touchdowns since the 2013 season, and while he was absolutely needed to be replaced in the locker room, his production will be the biggest piece of the puzzle for the Steelers to solve.

Enter Diontae Johnson, the Steelers newest addition through the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft.

Throughout the draft process, Johnson wasn’t very high on many boards after playing his college ball at Toledo. Johnson was scouted by draft analysts to be a day three (rounds 4-7) pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.So after the Steelers selected Johnson over the likes of more well-known names such as Hakeem Butler, Miles Boykin and Terry McLaurin, some fans didn’t know how to react. Yet the Steelers reportedly had a first-round grade on Johnson going into the draft, and were excited to take him in the third round. The Steelers weren’t the only ones that saw potential in Johnson, either.

After digging through a myriad of analysis and scouting reports for Johnson, one common name kept re-appearing for Johnson’s NFL player comparison: Antonio Brown.

With both players hailing from MAC schools with similar play-types, the “shifty receiver who runs good routes” comp to Brown could be considered a lazy one at best. Sure, they play to a similar feel, but that alone shouldn’t peg Johnson in the same class as Brown. Yet when you compare the measurables of both players at the time of the NFL Combine, it’s hard to ignore the similarities:

As you can see on the table above, Johnson is almost a carbon copy of Brown in every physical category listed when he entered the league in 2010. As for comparing Brown/Johnson in terms of production coming out of school, Brown dusts Johnson’s career numbers. With both players playing three seasons in college, Brown had 305 career receptions for 3,199 yards at Central Michigan compared to Johnson’s 135 receptions for 2, 235 yards at Toledo. While Brown remains on an entirely different world of efficiency, Johnson actually has one more receiving touchdown (23) than Brown did (22) with a larger yards per reception (16.6) than Brown (10.5).

Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson was one of the best all-around route runners going into his senior season, as he earned a 140.1 passer rating when targeted. Johnson was ranked as the 11th best receiver heading into the 2019 NFL Draft by PFF.

However, as great as numbers are to look at, tape doesn’t lie. If Johnson truly is getting compared to Brown, there better be tape to back it up in different aspects of the game.


Brown and Johnson had similar impacts on special teams, as both proved to be valuable as return men. Johnson only needs a small window of daylight to turn the jets on, similar to Brown when the ball’s in his hands.

In terms of body adjustment, nobody is quite as good as Antonio Brown. His ability to adjust his body to the trajectory of the ball and somehow come down with it is second to none in the NFL. Yet Diontae here shows a little bit of that magic on a remarkable touchdown catch.

Again, Brown’s catch on the above video is pretty spectacular, and is consistently done a routine basis. However, if Johnson is able to maintain body control like he showed on that back shoulder catch, there are similarities in that department.

Going along the lines of body control, Johnson is somebody who can complete a play with his speed, route running and ability to snatch the football out of the sky with defenders in his area, a play Steelers fans have seen many times when Roethlisberger connects with Brown.

In terms of screen passes, you could just virtually swap the jerseys and be fine. Johnson below displays the same ability to take a screen pass and squeeze past defenders with little room next to the sideline to score.

One of Brown’s best characteristics as a receiver is his ability to not only run a route precisely, but to physically get separation and buy himself room from the defender. Another trait? His ability to turn a five yard catch into a 40 yard play. Johnson displays both here.

Going along the lines of turning something little into something great, the run after catch ability is strong within Johnson.

And if you needed any indication on who Johnson might’ve modeled his game after, look no further then his post-score celebrations.


Johnson was a surprise pick to everybody outside of the Steelers war room. Many were initially confused as to why Pittsburgh opted to select a guy who wasn’t very well-known through the draft process, yet after nearly a week of letting the pick digest and actually looking at Johnson, most Steelers fans have come to love the pick. In terms of being compared to Brown, it is a heavy comp to give a third round player. Yet after comparing their measurables and closely reviewing the film, the comparisons are understandable. Is Johnson close to the player Brown is today? Absolutely not. However, Johnson provides an identical product for the Steelers to mold for the future. Steelers fans shouldn’t expect Johnson to be like Brown, they should only expect him to be himself.

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