Diontae Johnson puts defenses on notice: ‘I haven’t reached my peak yet’

It took Diontae Johnson a couple of seasons to hit his stride, but now that he has, there’s no looking back.

It took Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson a couple of seasons to hit his stride, but now that he has, there’s no looking back.

Coming from a non-Power 5 school, the pace of the NFL smacked Johnson in the face. He feels like it wasn’t until the end of his rookie season that he started feeling more comfortable in the pro system.

“The game was really fast coming in,” Johnson said on NFL Radio‘s SiriusXM Blitz. “I just made plays whenever my number was called.”

“Once the game started slowing down, I could see things better, read defenses — that helped certain releases I could do off the line.”

Johnson’s progression with each season was evident: 680 yards in 2019 (59 receptions) and 923 in 2020 (88 receptions).

In six games, Johnson has logged 474 yards (he did not play Week 3 in the loss to Bengals). He’s averaging just under 12 yards per reception this season and an impressive 80 yards per game.

“Now I’m in my third year. I can see everything, and I know what to do instantly. The game has slowed down tremendously for me.”

“I’m way more comfortable than I was in my first two years,” Johnson said. “I just feel like I’m just I haven’t reached my peak yet; I’m still elevating. I’m just gonna continue to keep doing what I’ve been doing, and I trusted the man upstairs every day absolutely in you can see that on film.”

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Steelers WR Diontae Johnson talks Browns: ‘They put it on us last year’

Halloween 2021 is the day the Steelers have been waiting for since January. Losing twice in 8 days to their vaunted rival Browns left a bad taste in their mouth. 

Today is the day the Pittsburgh Steelers have been waiting for since January. Losing twice in eight days to their vaunted rival Cleveland Browns left a bad taste in their mouth.

The most devasting loss came in the wild-card round of the 2020 NFL playoffs. Pittsburgh logged 553 total yards to Cleveland’s 390 and kept the ball for more than half of the game. But fatal mistakes — including four interceptions thrown by Ben Roethlisberger — cut their playoff hopes short.

“They put it on us last year. We’ve got to come in with a chip on our shoulder and just bring it for real,” Johnson said in an interview with SiriusXM Blitz on NFL Radio.

“We know what happened to us last year. We know we should’ve won that game.”

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson had a big day — his 117-yard performance remains a career-best.

Johnson said today’s brawl with the Browns is about taking care of business. “We’ve got to come into their house and take control on our side of the ball. We’ve got to play our role and not try to do too much.”

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Steelers’ Diontae Johnson reveals unique drill used to fix drops problem

To what does Diontae Johnson owe his 0 drops in 49 targets?

Some bumps (and potholes) slowed his progress down, but Diontae Johnson is finally emerging as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ No. 1 receiver.

Though Johnson is on a team that’s flush with receiving talent — and, as such, Ben Roethlisberger spreads the ball around — he leads the team in targets (49). His 415 yards are second only to Chase Claypool’s 421 (both missed one game this season). If Johnson keeps up the pace, he’ll more than double the 923 yards contributed in 2020.

The bond that Roethlisberger and Johnson have created shows on the field and in the stats. Roethlisberger is at his best when targeting the third-year receiver. On Monday, NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkabwala tweeted that Roethlisberger’s passer rating is highest (97.2) when the ball is sent Johnson’s way.

It’s a vast improvement over last season. Though dropped passes are a subjective and unofficial stat, Johnson committed a league-leading 10-16 (depending on the source), which forced Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin to bench him in Week 14.

Drops have been non-existent for Johnson so far this season — through four games (he missed Week 3 with a knee injury), Johnson has zero.

How did Johnson cure dropitis? During minicamp this summer, Johnson revealed he was using a tennis ball machine for catching drills.

“It’s a smaller target, so you have to really focus on the ball and the object coming at you,” Johnson said (per Pittsburgh Tribune’s Joe Rutter). “That’s what I’ve been honing on to. Now, when I catch the football, it’s easy.

“It’s always been easy to me, but it’s keeping that focus and that confidence.”

It couldn’t come at a better time. Veteran receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster’s season is done, so Johnson will need all the focus and confidence he can muster to help keep the offense on track.

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Diontae Johnson refuses to let drops, inexperience get the best of him in playoffs

Diontae Johnson is days away from suiting up for his very first NFL playoff appearance on Sunday. But he’s not going to let that be a thing. 

Diontae Johnson is days away from suiting up for his very first NFL playoff appearance on Sunday. But he’s not going to let that be a thing.

“At the end of the day, it’s just football,” Johnson said in a press conference on Wednesday. “Yeah, it’s a playoff game, a single-elimination tournament, and it’s a big game, but you have to make sure you don’t overthink it. I am just attacking it like it a normal week other than maybe a little more detailed on my practice skills and watching films —route running, catching the ball, looking it in. I have to make sure I am a little more dialed in this week.”

Johnson was benched early in the Week 14 loss to the Bills after adding two drops to the seven committed in a five-game span.

“After that Buffalo game, I just really sat down with myself and talked to myself to try to figure out what is going on with me,” he shared. “Really, it was just a mental thing and really just paying attention to outside noise, and once I got rid of that and starting dialing in on myself and just focusing on me (and) the game, you didn’t see my try to think too much and try to double catch the ball or things like that. I feel like myself again. I just want to continue to show the world that is what I am capable of doing.”

Johnson has shut out the noise and shaken off the yips. Since the Buffalo benching, he’s bounced back to contribute 22 catches on 34 targets, 257 yards and two scores.

To prep for this monumental game, Johnson looks to the experienced guys in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, defensive tackle Cam Heyward, guard David DeCastro, whose combined playoff experience is 33 games.

“Those guys have been in the league for a long time; they have the experience,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to see how they go about this week and how they prepare and try to put that in my game so I can be ready just like them.”

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Steelers’ Diontae Johnson scores career game versus Bengals

Big Ben and Johnson only hooked up three times for 25 yards before the QB went on injured reserve.

It didn’t take Diontae Johnson very long to get on the same page as his QB and earn himself a career game in the Steelers victory over the Bengals.

You probably don’t need reminding that Ben Roethlisberger was out of commission in 2019. He and Johnson only hooked up three times for 25 yards before Big Ben went on injured reserve.

Not only is this Roethlisberger’s first full season with Johnson, but the young unit as a whole.

With six receptions on 11 targets, Diontae racked up 116 yards and a score for the best showing of his budding career.

Johnson’s touchdown culminated a 74-yard drive late in the first quarter. With a minute remaining, the Steelers took at 12-0 lead after a failed two-point conversion.

The second-year receiver came within eight yards of 100 in Week 2 versus the Denver Broncos. The closest sans Roethlisberger was an 84-yard game against the Miami Dolphins with Mason Rudolph at the helm.

Having a healthy Diontae Johnson as a target is starting to reap benefits for the offense.

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Steelers’ WR Diontae Johnson: ‘Nothing going to keep me out of the game’

After what appeared to be a dire situation on Sunday, Johnson says nothing will keep him from the game.

In what initially looked serious, receiver Diontae Johnson went down on a standard-issue tackle from Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler. After converting a critical third-down on one of the last plays of the Steelers’ final drive, he laid there for a solid minute with his hands on his helmet.

Trainers came out, head coach Mike Tomlin hovered. Players stood by, and Ben Roethlisberger kneeled to check on him. We all know what happened last time Ben did that — Zach Banner had an ACL tear.

AP Photo/Mark Zaleski

Thankfully, the second-year receiver walked off the field under his own power, and the news was positive Tuesday.

Tomlin did not name Diontae when he provided a synopsis of injuries in his weekly press conference.

And Johnson told the Pittsburgh media on Tuesday what we all wanted to hear — that he’s alright. “It was just a little ankle bruise or whatnot, but nothing going to keep me out of the game.”

But a back injury kept Diontae out of the game in Week 6, and he exited the Texans matchup in the first quarter after sustaining a concussion.

It was revealed in the offseason that Johnson played much of his rookie season with a groin injury, so he’s clearly a resilient athlete. He had surgery in February for the injury he suffered in Week 2.

This season, Johnson has been battling a toe injury since training camp.

The team and Diontae are lucky it’s merely an ankle bruise. He and Ben are just starting to gel, as evidenced by two scores on Sunday. Missing any more time than he already has would be detrimental to that progress.

So far, Johnson is projected to play and that’s huge. Pittsburgh will need all the weapons it can get versus the Ravens.

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Diontae Johnson injury update: The latest on Steelers receiver’s Week 7 status

Steelers practice has come to a close for Wednesday and they’ve provided updates on injuries.

According to the Steelers injury report, wide receiver Diontae Johnson was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice.

Johnson suffered the injury after a direct blow to the back in the Steelers-Eagles Week 5 matchup.

Like most receivers not named Chase Claypool, Diontae has been limited to 147 yards and a touchdown. He has 15 receptions on 24 targets for a completion percentage of 62.5, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers will need every possible offensive weapon they can get when they take on the 5-0 Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on Sunday.

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Daily Fantasy: The one Steelers player you need to start in Week 3 on DraftKings

Diontae Johnson is flourishing with Ben Roethlisberger at QB and is the Steelers DraftKings player to start in Week 3 against Houston.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 and getting back to their balanced offensive attack with future of Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger healthy and resuming his climb up the NFL record books.

The Steelers returned to practice on Wednesday to prepare for the Texans in Week 3, and both wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Diontae Johnson (toe) sat out practice. Johnson currently leads the Steelers with 14 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown and with Pittsburgh facing a Texans defense that currently ranks 25th in defensive efficiency, the young wideout is the Steelers player to pick up in DraftKings’ DFS format.

Fantasy football managers on Draftkings and all platforms should not only roster but start the second-year wideout who led the team with 59 receptions last season, and has become one of Roethlisberger’s most reliable targets.

Johnson has reached double-digit targets in each of the first two weeks including eight passes for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos last Sunday. Johnson and Smith-Schuster are looking like one of the top wide receiving duos in the league and the second-year pro should flourish while continuing to fly under the radar.

Steelers WR Diontae Johnson: One aspect of his game that needs to improve this season

One technical tweak and Diontae Johnson should be golden.

Diontae Johnson’s rookie season is now a thing of the past.

Those days are behind him now, but with that comes game tape that upcoming opponents have and will scrutinize. An issue that will immediately jump out when watching Johnson is his inconsistency with ball security.

Where the quarterback places his throws is vital for receivers, especially new guys, so Diontae’s drops could’ve quickly been passed off as a by-product of subpar quarterback play.

Unfortunately, though, ball instability was an issue that went unaddressed at Toledo. In three seasons with the Rockets, Johnson’s erratic ball skills led to 17 drops and four fumbles (two lost), and it followed him from NCAA to the pros.

AP Photo/Jose Juarez

Ball skills were a glaring weakness noted in analysts’ draft profiles on Johnson across the board.

Drops and fumbles reared their ugly heads in Pittsburgh, no thanks, in part, to the speed and strength of pro defenders. The velocity of the ball is also significantly different from college to the NFL.

Excluding quarterbacks, Diontae led the Steelers in fumbles (two lost) last year with five, which tied for fifth in the league. He added to that six disappointing drops. Johnson’s five fumbles were four more than JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington has in their careers combined.

Johnson had instances last season where poor technique with ball security cost him. He self-jarred the ball loose with his knee or the ground due to not having the ball tightly guarded. Diontae had a nasty habit of cradling the football in a haphazard, unnatural looking way (versus tucking it), which exposes the ball, and allows defenders to conveniently strip it. It’s especially concerning in cases where a defender sneaks up on him. Johnson must correct his ball-handling technique, especially while navigating traffic.

Defenders have tunnel-vision on the ball carrier and sniff out signs of a bobble. One indication the ball is slipping, and it’s the defenders’ job to punch it out. They have, and they will.

Johnson needs to get his hands properly aligned to catch the football consistently. And once he does, adhere to the five points of pressure for a ball carrier (fingertips, palms, forearms, biceps, chest). Focusing on the five points will help ensure the ball is protected from defenders. When the ball is secured through these points of contact, it is nearly impossible for the defender to get the ball out. Fumbles occur when one of the points of pressure is typically lacking, which can result in a turnover.

Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The good news for Johnson and the Steelers is that skillfulness and technique with ball security are coachable and learnable. Catch-to-tuck, five points of pressure, the technical skill at the point of the catch are all things that are drilled into receivers’ heads in daily ball security meetings. It was, without question, a focal point of Johnson’s offseason training and will continue to be worked on in practices.

The JUGS machine is a receiver’s best friend — drill regularity should help strengthen and improve his hands and catching consistency. Johnson’s noted body transformation should also help boost his ability to hang onto the ball when he endures tough hits.

As we were witness to, Diontae has terrific upside. He had an impressive rookie season and far outplayed his draft prospectus with the Steelers in year one. Johnson showed the ability to adjust to poor throws and track the ball vertically, leading not only the Steelers but the 2019 rookie class in receptions with 59.

If Johnson can refine his ball security technique, it could catapult him from good to great in 2020.

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PFF predicts Steelers WR Diontae Johnson as 2020 breakout player

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is a breakout candidate for 2020, per Pro Football Focus.

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breakout
[ˈbrākˌout]
ADJECTIVE informal
1. suddenly and extremely popular or successful.

Pro Football Focus revealed their annual breakout player predictions for every NFL team, and — surprise, surprise — they selected wide receiver Diontae Johnson as the Steelers candidate for breakout player.

In his predictions, PFF’s Anthony Treash writes:

Johnson has been high on several PFF analysts’ radars dating back to his days at Toledo, and he showed glimpses in his 2019 rookie year (particularly down the stretch) that verify our projection of him. Four of his five best games of the year came in his final four games, and that led to him being the sixth-highest graded player at the position in that span.

He’s tough to bring down after the catch, too; Johnson broke 18 tackles on 59 catches, tying for the most in the league with Deebo Samuel. If he keeps up his play from late in 2019, he’s in line for a big 2020 campaign.

Treash included a 2019 Tweet from PFF’s Sam Monson highlighting Johnson’s play versus the Buffalo Bills.

In May, Monson selected Johnson as one of two Steelers (linebacker Devin Bush) among eight potential breakout second-year players for 2020.

Johnson’s encouraging rookie season has set him up nicely for a remarkable forthcoming campaign. With Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm for Pittsburgh, there’s no reason why he can’t make that sophomore leap into breakoutdom.

Nursing a foot injury, Johnson is expected to play Monday night versus the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

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