Questions abound for the Steelers top weapon on the outside 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 play style, or is he just that good? Can he continue to outshine the two more physically gifted Wide Receivers (WR) on the team in Chase Claypool and George Pickens?
Diontae Johnson is a difficult eval this offseason, but hopefully we’ll be able to get some gauge on how he is bonding with his new QBs in the Steelers’ new-look offense fresh off signing a new 2-year extension with the club. We do know that Johnson is a talented player and one the best pure route runners in football. This all sets us up for a wide range of results in 2022 for the Steelers top receiver.
Experience: 4 yrs
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 establishing himself as a top 10 WR in PPR fantasy leagues. Although his efficiency was well below average, he boasted elite volume and consistency over the course of 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 was hampered by poor offensive line play and regression from Ben Roethlisberger, the combination of which limited the passing game to quick, underneath routes and all but eliminating the threat of intermediate and downfield throws. Despite this, Johnson excelled as a YAC artist and PPR monster.
2021 provided both a fantasy breakout year and a “what if” season for Johnson, who hopes to gain from what should be a much more complete passing game with younger options behind center and an OL that should be much improved on last year’s moribund group.
Johnson’s measly 6.9 yds/target in 2021 were easily the worst of any WR who reached 1,000+ yards receiving. Johnson was truly a volume-based WR1 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.
No matter who ultimately ends up behind center, whether that’s Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, or Mason Rudolph, the offense should look starkly different than the dink-and-dunk attack of the last two seasons, where Johnson really excelled.
The other issue going against Diontae from a fantasy perspective, is the improved depth of the receiving talent on the roster. Chase Claypool is looking to make the leap this season and capitalize on the tantalizing talent he has flashed at times the last two years. He’s 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 that will also defer targets away from Johnson.
It is highly probable that Johnson comes nowhere close to his 169 targets from 2021, and despite his obvious talent and current status as the team’s WR1, Diontae must improve his efficiency to have any chance of maintaining the production that made him a top 10 PPR fantasy WR in 2021. Johnson is currently being drafted as the WR15 according to FantasyPros.com consensus rankings. I like him in that range, but there is risk if he cannot maintain his high target share or improve his efficiency.
Projected Fantasy Stats
Receiving: 90 REC/1,050 YDS/ 5 TD
Points/Rank: 225 PPR Pts/WR19