The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been known as a wide receiver factory, especially under former General Manager (GM) Kevin Colbert. When you consider the receivers who have donned the black-and-gold, and flourished there, it is a long list.
Here’s a few of the names:
- Hines Ward
- Santonio Holmes
- Antonio Brown
- Martavis Bryant
- JuJu Smith-Schuster
There could be more names added to the above list, but one name most Steelers fans probably wouldn’t include is Diontae Johnson. Yes, the man who just received a hefty contract extension last offseason. Nonetheless, despite the fan base’s feelings about Johnson, the advanced analytics show he is one of the best in the game.
Before going into the rankings, here is how ESPN starting their new Receiver Tracking Metrics (RTMs):
Our new Receiver Tracking Metrics (RTMs) use player tracking data from NFL Next Gen Stats to analyze every route run — including those that are untargeted — and assess receiver performance in three distinct phases: getting open, contesting and making the catch, and generating yards after the catch (YAC). These three components also are blended to create an overall receiving metric.
Still, despite Johnson being labeled as a great route runner, there’s no way he would be considered an elite level receiver in the game today. Not after having a 2022 season which saw him collect 882 passing yards and zero touchdowns.
Yet here we are, and Johnson did rank as an elite receiver based on these metrics. Let’s dive into the rankings:
Overall Rankings (Top 5)
1. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
2. Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings
3. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
4. Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
5. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Johnson finished in the Top 5 overall, and in some pretty prestigious company. How did he find his way that high? It all is based on the other categories they track, and one which Johnson dominates.
Getting Open (Top 5)
1. Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
2. Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks
3. A.J. Brown, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
T5. Tyreek Hill
T5. CeeDee Lamb
When it comes to the “getting open” metric, there is no one in the league who does it better than Johnson. His ability to create separation is beyond elite, whether fans want to admit it or not. Does it equate in production? Obviously not, considering he didn’t tally 1,000 yards. Nonetheless, he is tops in the league in this category.
It is also worth noting Johnson isn’t the only Steelers wide receiver to be atop an analytical category. Rookie George Pickens found his way to the top in a two-way tie with Donovan Peoples-Jones for the “making the catch” category.
Making the Catch (Top 5)
T1. George Pickens, Pittsburgh Steelers
T1. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Cleveland Browns
3. Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers
T4. Isaiah Hodgins, New York Giants
T4. Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
While Johnson didn’t rank anywhere near the Top 5 in Yards After the Catch (YAC) category, his work was good enough to help him be in the Top 5 overall. When you look at some of his statistics, you can see how despite this overall ranking Johnson struggled in the Steelers offense in 2022.
Having a rookie quarterback and going through a quarterback change in Week 4 wasn’t easy on the offensive skill position players. Throw in a questionable play caller and it is a recipe for a down year statistically. Yet with all that said, Johnson proved he is more than capable of still being a threat in the passing game. The question now becomes will his overall statistics match that of the advanced analytics? Steelers fans certainly hope that’s the case...
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