Steelers Film Room: Diontae Johnson, Part 2 - Welcome to Miami.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

To follow part 1 where we looked at most of Diontae Johnson's great 2017 year, we are going to look at 2 games in greater detail. The Miami games deserve a closer look because Miami is the toughest opponent Toledo would face, the best physical corners Diontae would face and some of Diontae's best film, a good bit of it against Michael Johnson Sr. (#28) who was a 5th round pick in this years draft as a strong press-man corner.

Let's dig in.

Toledo at Miami, 9/23/2017

Play 1. Top of screen, the WR on the line


Good ball get off, nice cut into the gap in the zone but he hasn't regained balance off the cut and drops it. A lot of his drops are plays like this, a high throw after a cut and he can't get his hands together.

**After that drop he was under thrown in the endzone for a breakup, and he caught a contested catch out of bounds and landed badly, missing the rest of the first quarter and some of the second.

Play 2. Top of the screen.


With little time on the clock and looking for a first down we get this gem. A good sell to the inside buys him space for the catch, he takes the hit and gets out of bounds with only 5 seconds off the clock. The resulting FG would give Toledo a 6 pt. lead to end the half.

Play 3. Bottom of the screen.


This is one of my favorite plays of Diontae's. Looks simple, but it is beautiful. Diontae is running an out route and he can't afford to be too far outside. He wants his route to be on the numbers, but he has a CB right in his way. A hop step and an inside fake later Johnson steps right on the arrow, exactly where he wants his route to be and the defender is inside and behind him.

That is top level stuff right there. When he cuts it isn't perfect, but the DB is in no position to defend the play. He makes the catch with a few feet of leeway. If he had tried to go through or outside the CB this isn't a catch. There wouldn't be room. This is winning chess.

Play 4. Bottom of screen.


First a great adjustment to the route to get around #9, then that fake step takes out 3 defenders, and turning on the speed takes care of 2 more for a first down. He has a knack for making plays even against teams with NFL caliber athletes.

Play 5. Second from top of screen on the line.


3rd and 6, Diontae catches the DB looking at the QB, explodes off the line and the DB has no choice but to wrap him up for the PI and a first down. That's speed.

Play 6. Top of screen - the next play.


Nice inside release, turns on jets to get behind CB and out into the gap in the cover-2 before the Safety can get there. Here is a great example of his quick hands resulting in a great catch, plucking a high ball out of the air and securing it before the hit arrives. We have seen JuJu make these kind of catches a lot, diontae can do it too, he just needs to work out the drops.

Play 7. Top of screen - the next play.


Micheal Jackson Sr. does not intend to get beat again, plays physical defense but can't disrupt Diontae's route or force an incompletion. Physically tough route running and a great catch.

Play 8. Third from top.


Great job slipping coverage and finding the gap. As for the catch. . .


Big time play.

Play 9. Bottom of screen.


Down 10 with 7 minutes left, going for two to try and make it a one score game, who else would you go to? Diontae cuts hard inside before spinning back the other way. Miami can not defend him. He finishes a dynamic 2:10 span with a 2pt conversion. A PI for a first down to start it off, then 4 catches for 2 TDs and a 2pt conversion to put his team in range of an upset. (It would fall apart quickly after this but he did his part)

I put a lot of stock in this game because this was a very good Miami team, and a really good defense. No other team in the regular season dropped 30 on Miami in 2017, and only one other player caught 2 TDs in a game against them.

Diontae put on a clinic in the 4th quarter and embarrassed their defense. But they would get another shot at him, the next season, with a lesser QB and O-line supporting him.

Miami at Toledo, 9/15/2018.

** Gonna start by showing 4 of the first 5 plays of Toledo's offense (the other play was a run). This sequence shows both Miami's determination to physically derail Diontae, and Diontae being more than up for the challenge.

Play 1. Bottom of screen.


Nice dip inside, if you look closely you can see Diontae control the right hand of the CB.

Play 2. Bottom of screen.


This time outside, but again Diontae just grabs and controls the hand of Michael Jackson Sr. The sideline throw that worked so well with Logan Woodside is not there with the new QB.

Play 3. Bottom of screen.


New strategy, Jackson doesn't try to affect his release, he goes for a jam right at Diontae's throat, gets his hand on the collar of his pads and just manhandles him 1970's style. This is a win for the CB, not so much for the rulebook.

Play 4. Top of screen.


Start of next drive, a different corner tries to go high and jam Diontae. . . To really appreciate this you need to click the link below and at 33 seconds into the film pause it, click the settings (gear icon), set it to the best resolution, and set playback speed to .5 (you may want to mute it as well). Then watch this beauty.

Diontae catches both the defenders arms, then pulls them down and through like he's Von Miller roasting an OT. Int he first part of this review we saw that reaction time, but Diontae just blocked the hands of the CB, here he has added technique to his talent and a new weapon to his arsenal. At 0:36 Diontae has 2 yards on the CB and this is single high safety. If the QB looks his way it's a TD. But in typical 2018 Toledo fashion, the QB throws to his first read despite the WR being blanketed.

Here's the link to the film of this game. This sequence is the first 42 seconds.

This showcases a big step in growth from 2017, Diontae isn't just juking defenders, he's started beating jams and presses like a pass rusher, controlling a DB's hand is just not fair. That's serious hand-eye coordination and something you don't even see commonly in the NFL. Diontae is going to be fine facing NFL corners and releasing. As a prospect you can rate his release ability as Elite. He's right there with the best all-time coming out of college.

From here Miami tries a lot of things to stop Diontae Johnson, they will try the throat jam a few more times, but it won't really work again. They try bailing, they try bracketing him, nothing consistently works. I wanted to start with these 4 because for most of this game this is what you see. Diontae facing tough defense, beating it and the QB not looking his way.

Which isn't to say he didn't do well statistically. . .

Play 5. Bottom of screen.


Tiny steps to work the CB a little (three step release), then initiates contact to take away the right arm, and if you look when the camera finds him again he's regained some of the space to the boundary that he gave up in his release. when he pulls his arm back in and reorients his lean he has a lot of space to make a clean over the shoulder catch in bounds. One difference you see in 2018 DJ is his fake steps and moves have gotten more compact and faster. There's more polish on these moves and routes than there was in 2017.

Play 6. Bottom of screen.


Swats the hand down, beats the CB inside, play action pulls the safeties up. . . and there's a drop again, a little behind, his body control gets him in position, just has to make that grab. In part one I showed him make a catch like this, but it is one he drops a good bit.

Play 7. 2nd from top.


Next play he redeems himself, getting into the gap in the zone defense and scoring the TD off a tipped pass. The DB that lines up over him tries to warn the outside corner but he's too late. Diontae runs the slant right into the gap in the defense and the ball makes it through with just a little redirect and Diontae adjusts and catches it.

Play 8. Bottom of screen, on the line.


Deja vu. Outside release, slap hand down, maintain space to boundary, haul in catch. Makes it look easy, like good route running will do.

Play 9. Bottom of Screen.


Good release inside, good move to shake the defense and finds the end zone. But the best part of the play you can't see in this angle.


After the good release inside he makes a strong cut that the CB can't even affect by holding him. Diontae may not be big, but he's also not weak. Diontae torches Miami even more in his second game, because he beats their physicality at the line of scrimmage and he beats their physicality in his routes. They can't stop him inside the rules or outside the rules. If you try to take bigger, more athletic corners and get physical with Diontae you aren't going to have a lot of success.

Since 2000, when College Reference starts recording game stats only 6 times has a WR scored 2 TDs in a game against Miami. Two of those 6 are Diontae Johnson. In fact since 2000 Diontae Johnson ranks #1 in career receiving TDs against the University of Miami. He ranks 17th in career receiving yards against Miami, 6th in career yards per game. Below him on that list are guys like Tyler Boyd, Demaryius Thomas and Calvin Johnson who played in the ACC and recorded more games against Miami than Diontae.

I point this out because he beat them badly enough it might be easy to think other WRs are torching this team too. But only one other WR even gained 100 yards against Miami in 2018.

Sometimes a player just has an opponent they always do well against, and Miami brought out the best in Diontae Johnson. Their physical defense from athletic and big CBs didn't just fail to stop him, it played right into his strengths.

The take away from this film is that Diontae Johnson is NFL ready in several key areas.

#1. Releases. This matters a lot. A great way to negate young WRs is to get physical with them. Most college defenses aren't as physical as Miami, and a lot of top WR prospects' film is full of running crisp routes against off coverage with no one touching them. Then they get to the NFL and have to learn how to get off the line of scrimmage. Diontae will not have trouble there. He is going to thrive against press and jams like JuJu did as a rookie, and that was a big part of why JuJu had the success he had.

#2. Physical route running. Even when corners let you off the line they often physically adjust your route as you run it. Sealing you from where you want to go and throwing you out of rhythm with the play. That's how Joe Haden is still a viable #1 corner. He knows how to physically disrupt WRs without getting flagged.
Again, Diontae isn't going to struggle as much with that. he does a great job of getting his lane off his release, and physically not just keeping his lane, but often improving it even through contact.

#3. The 1v1 chess match. WR v CB is an every down battle, and Diontae Johnson doesn't just play for the current snap. He uses different releases, route techniques and varies his speed all in ways that keep the CB on-guard and guessing, he sets them up for moves, to get burned with his quickness and to bite on the wrong move.

Diontae shouldn't be facing top CBs on NFL teams as a rookie, so these skills should translate well to NFL games even early on. If he is healthy through camp and preseason he could be an impactful depth WR early on like JuJu was. He could very well lead his class in receiving like JuJu has so far.

In part 3 we will look at the rest of 2018, the weaknesses in Diontae's game and what he will have to overcome to reach his potential.

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