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Diontae Johnson’s key improvements are proof the Steelers have a star in the making

diontae johnson, steelers

Diontae Johnson made a handful of highlight-reel plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers during his sophomore season in the NFL, but many of his strong outings were overshadowed by some truly critical errors. Johnson finished the 2020 season as the NFL’s leader in dropped passes, having logged 16 during the regular season. An atrocious tally, Johnson’s inability to haul in some of the balls thrown his way was a major concern among Steelers fans, especially considering the enormous potential the former third-round pick possesses.

Well, anyone worried about Johnson’s hands needs only watch footage from this season to cast those doubts aside. The third-year wideout has been phenomenal for the Steelers and has made massive improvements in regards to drops. In fact, Johnson’s hands have been so secure this year, he stands alone in terms of one significant stat. Johnson is the only wide receiver in the NFL this season to have been targeted more than 100 times while only recording one drop, per ProFootballFocus.

Talk about addressing an area of concern. The Toledo product had the worst mark in the sport in terms of dropped balls last year, but bounced back in 2021 and emerged as one of the most reliable pass-catchers in the league. On the season, Johnson has been targeted 107 times. He’s logged 68 receptions, 809 yards, and four touchdowns across 10 games. Johnson has been far and away the most targeted player on the Steelers (Chase Claypool and Najee Harris are next with 69 and 67 targets, respectively) and has proven to be worth the sizable target share he commands.

After recording 88 receptions on 144 targets last season, it was clear the Steelers had big plans for the budding wideout. His drops, however, raised questions as to whether he could truly reach his potential in the league. Many of his drops, as you may recall, weren’t on difficult plays. 14 of his 16 dropped passes last year came within five yards of the line of scrimmage, meaning Johnson was struggling to get a handle on screen passes and other similarly short throws. While Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been the most precise passer in the league since Johnson was drafted, that amount of dropped short passes is inexcusable.

Johnson was well aware of that, however, and he has managed to free himself from the unfortunate narrative surrounding his game. To see a young player like Johnson, 25, improve so vastly on the weakest aspect of his game is a blessing for Steelers fans. The organization should feel comfortable in knowing they’ve got a star talent on the offense, capable of helping the transition for whatever quarterback becomes the heir apparent to Roethlisberger.

The Steelers have a matchup with the Baltimore Ravens on the slate for Week 13, and they’ll be relying heavily on Johnson to expose one of the NFL’s weakest secondaries. He has at least seven receptions and 80 yards in each of his past three games, seeing no fewer than 13 passes thrown his way in each of those contests.