Last season entering the league as a rookie out of Toledo Johnson found moderate success playing with terrible starting quarterbacks in Mason Rudolph and “Duck” Hodges. Johnson showed us enough here at The Elite Fantasy to feel confident in him being a league winner in 2020, with the return of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We will first take a look at what he did as a rookie. Johnson was on the field for 66.2% of the Steelers offensive plays in 2019. Johnson saw a total of 92 targets in his rookie season. In fact in 10 out of 16 games played Johnson saw over 6 targets. In 6 of those 10 games Johnson caught five or more passes showing he was involved often in games. Johnson ended the season catching 59 of his 92 targets for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns, averaging 11.53 yards per reception, while never going over 100 receiving yards in a game. Pittsburgh used Johnson all over the formation playing both inside and outside in 2019, especially in games where they didn’t have JuJu suited up due to injury. Johnson took most of his offensive snaps on the outside as the X receiver. To make up for the deficiencies at quarterback and the need for an elusive receiver out of the slot to mesh with the offensive scheme Johnson was used in the screen game and on shallow crossing routes. It was on these types of schemed throws Johnson was able to use his great run after catch ability. Let’s take a look at some of Diontae’s highlights from last season.
In those highlights we can see some positives and negatives in his game. First thing we notice is Johnson’s natural quickness, which is evident in his play speed. Johnson possesses route separation quickness and a very good run after catch ability. Pittsburgh tried to utilize this quickness by getting Johnson the ball when on the move through routes such as slants, crossers, sail routes, and quick screens. We must keep in mind that most of Johnson’s explosive plays in 2019 came against defenses that were weak or played a lot of off man coverage. This is where Johnson excels as a receiver, as he is very good at attacking off coverage corners using his suddenness and twitch. Johnson seems to struggle with release against man coverage and must improve on this to take that next step in his development. The other area of his game that he has to clean up is his inconsistent hands, as he struggled to reel in those more difficult catches. Johnson should be able to clean that area of his game up as he is a very natural catcher as he demonstrated throughout his collegian career. In fact last season as a rookie Johnson possessed a 64% catch rate which is nothing to be embarrassed by.
In 2020 we feel Johnson will be moved around the formation much like he was last season. Looking at his film from last year we feel Johnson is best utilized as a slot receiver where he can use his elusiveness, natural quickness, and run after catch to do damage. Even if he is kept on the outside as the Steeler’s X we feel he still has league winning ability for your fantasy team. Johnson is being taken as the 40th wide receiver in most 12 team leagues with an ADP putting him as an early 9th round pick. This is terrific value as we have him considerably higher as our 28th receiver in redraft formats which would make him an early 6th round pick. So you take this value, his natural physical traits as a receiver, and the fact that he will have a true starting quarterback in 2020 and add it up, and it comes out to Diontae Johnson being a league winner in 2020, and beyond.