There are many questions about the Steelers’ top weapon out there in 2022. How will the Steelers’ uncertain quarterback (QB) situation affect Johnson’s production? Was his incredible volume over the last two seasons a product of Ben Roethlisberger’s style of play, or is he just that good? Can he continue to outperform the team’s two other physically gifted Wide Receivers (WR) in Chase Claypool and George Pickens?
Diontae Johnson is a tough check this offseason, but hopefully we can get some insight into how he meshes with his new QBs in the new-look Steelers offense after signing a new 2-year extension with the club. We know Johnson is a talented player and one of the best pure route runners in football. All of this sets us up for a wide range of outcomes in 2022 for the Steelers top receiver.
experience: 4 years
2021 Fantasy Stats:
Receiving: 107 REC/1,161 YDS/8 TD
Rushing: 5 CAR/53 YDS/0 TD
Points/Rank: 274.4 PPR/WR8
Johnson picked up where he left off in 2020, leading the Steelers in targets, receptions, yards and receiving TDs in 2021, and established himself as a top 10 WR in PPR fantasy leagues. While his efficiency was well below average, he boasted elite volume and consistency throughout the season, finishing with 10+ targets in 12 of 16 games played and scoring 15+ PPR points in 11 of 16 games played.
The Steelers’ offense has been hampered by poor offensive line play and regression from Ben Roethlisberger, the combination of which has limited the passing game to quick, low routes and all but eliminated the threat of mid-range and downfield throws. Despite this, Johnson has excelled as a YAC artist and PPR monster.
2021 has provided both a fantastic breakout year and a “what if” season for Johnson, who hopes to gain from what should be a much more complete game with younger options behind center and an OL that should be much improved from last year’s group that is getting tired.
Johnson’s paltry 6.9 yards per target in 2021 was easily the worst of any WR to reach 1,000+ receiving yards. Johnson was indeed a WR1 based on volume in fantasy football in 2021. That will likely change significantly in 2022 when considering the change at QB and the development of other receiving options on the roster.
Regardless of who ends up behind center, whether it’s Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett or Mason Rudolph, the offense should look completely different than the dunking offense of the past two seasons, where Johnson has really excelled.
Another issue going against Diontae from a fantasy perspective is the improved depth of receiving talent on the roster. Chase Claypool is looking to make a breakthrough this season and capitalize on the stunning talent he has shown at times over the past two years. He is joined by two rookie playmakers in George Pickens and Calvin Austin who are quickly making their mark in training camp as potentially valuable pieces of the offense. We haven’t even mentioned the expected improvement of Tight End Pat Freiermuth and the receiving ability of Najee Harris who will also delay targets from Johnson.
It’s very likely that Johnson doesn’t come close to his 169 targets in 2021, and despite his obvious talent and current status as the team’s WR1, Diontae needs to improve his efficiency to have any chance of maintaining the production that made him a top-10 pick PPR fantasy. WR in 2021 Johnson currently drafts as WR15 according to FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. I like him in that range, but there is a risk if he can’t maintain his high target share or improve his efficiency.
Projected Fantasy Stats
Receiving: 90 REC/1.00 YDS/ 5 TD
Points/Rank: 220 PPR points/WR19
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