By Jeremy Hritz
Diontae Johnson signed a contract extension yesterday for additional two years, valued at $36.71 million dollars. With the contract now behind him, Johnson can focus on having his best season in 2022, and the Steelers avoid any unnecessary distraction that could shift the focus away from football. Johnson is now the “featured” receiver in the offense, and he will be expected to take another step in his development and show that he can be the consistent, dynamic WR#1 the Steelers expect him to be. With all of that in consideration, what can we expect from Johnson in the upcoming season?
A Look at Johnson’s First 3 Seasons
Since Johnson came into the league, he has grown in his performance each year, increasing his number of receptions, yards, and touchdowns. What is interesting is that his yards per reception have been static and hover around 10.8 yards per catch. The argument can be made that this average is reflective of the type of receiver he is: he’s not a field stretcher, he’s a shifty, route runner. However, you could also assert that his statistics were hindered by Ben Roethlisberger and his obsession with the short passing game. And respite from this type of passing attack may not be coming soon, as the Steelers quarterback situation is murky and a glaring unknown.
Johnson had his best season in 2021, eclipsing the 1000-yard mark for the first time in his career, and most importantly, decreased the number of drops that plagued his game the year prior. After 13 drops in 2020, Johnson only had 5 last season, yet that is still too many, and an area he has to continue to work on.
What to Expect in 2022?
It is difficult to project out Johnson’s numbers for the upcoming season because of the instability at quarterback. If Mitch Trubisky, or whomever starts, struggles to command the offense, then Johnson’s output could be compromised. On the flip side, Trubisky and company could look to rely on Johnson until greater comfort is achieved in the offense, boosting his output. If Johnson does not show any gains this season, he will be criticized for failing to live up to his new contract, but his game is dependent on several other factors.
Based on what Johnson has shown in his first 3 seasons, there is reason to expect more improvement in year #4. A stat line around 120 receptions for 1300 yards and 10 touchdowns would be right in line with his yearly incremental improvement.
Can he do it? Yes. Will he do it? Time will tell.