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The Steelers have a pair of players projected to have huge seasons in Year 3

PFF projects these Steelers third year players are expected to make a big impact in 2021.

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

There are few websites on the internet who are as polarizing as Pro Football Focus (PFF). Not that the writing is poor, or the takes are awful, but it is based around their grading system. There is a lot of confusion surrounding their grading, and many fans find them to be too far fetched and almost made up.

Either way, with the bad, there is some good. PFF does put in a ton of analysis to their work, and are very thorough with many of their analytical articles...not their grades.

Recently, PFF put out an article with a list of players who are entering their third year in the league, who could have big seasons. Of course, I wanted to see if the Pittsburgh Steelers were represented on the list, and they were in a big way. Of the eight players listed by PFF, the Steelers had two players on the list.

They were: WR Diontae Johnson and ILB Devin Bush.

See what was said about both players, and why they were put on the third year breakout player list:


Diontae Johnson is too good at too many things to avoid a huge season for long. He has already been reasonably productive and looked like Pittsburgh’s best receiver in 2020, but consistency and a struggling Steelers passing game have at times held him back.

Johnson gets open as well as any receiver in the NFL, which is a great starting point for success. Over his first two seasons in the league, he has been charted as open on 46% and 48% of his targets — that is 6-8 percentage points higher than the league average. If Ben Roethlisberger can improve on an unconvincing 2020 season and give the Steelers passing game some more teeth, Johnson will be open and looking for targets.

His numbers last season should have been significantly better — a league-leading 14 drops left a lot of meat on the bone. But drops are a volatile data point that come and go by season, and Johnson is unlikely to be burned as badly in that area going forward.


You could certainly argue that Devin Bush hit the ground running in the NFL and that his absence last season highlighted how good he already is. But the Steelers ask a lot from their linebackers, and his PFF grade hasn’t caught up with the ability he showed during his rookie season.

Bush had an overall PFF grade of 62.9 as a rookie, only earning a grade above 70.0 in tackling. He missed only 10 of his 116 total attempts.

He was solid in coverage, allowing a passer rating of 105.3 into his coverage, which sounds high but is almost exactly league average for targets against linebackers.

There is no doubting Bush’s talent, but 278 snaps in an injury-shortened campaign in 2020 did little to show any improvement over that rookie season. A pronounced step forward within the scheme this year could result in Bush’s down-to-down consistency and production meeting his highlight-making skills.

For both Johnson and Bush, the Steelers are banking on them having big seasons in 2021 at their respective positions. If Johnson can leave the dropped passes in 2020, there is a good chance he eclipses 1,000 yards receiving and leads the Steelers in targets and receptions. Likewise, if Bush can remain healthy he will step up and be the athletic cog to the Pittsburgh defense which should remain dominant.

Big seasons await these players, and the hope is PFF is right on the money.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes on the Steelers as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.