The Pittsburgh Steelers’ sophomore receiver has been turning heads, and this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
It’s no secret, NFL-wide, that the Pittsburgh Steelers are adept and have a strong acumen for drafting wide receivers that fit their system and are some of the most productive, high-impact receivers in the NFL.
Of course, this is nothing new. It’s been going on for some time now. Let’s do a quick roll-call: Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Louis Lipps, Yancey Thigpen, Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Martavis Bryant, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, (we’re still monitoring this situation).
Is Diontae Johnson next in line?
His second season with the Steelers may be the tell-tale sign.
Diontae Johnson’s star potential warrants further exploration for potential inclusion on the list of stellar Steelers receivers due to his stellar rookie season in which he led all Steelers receivers in receptions (59), receiving yards (680, 11.5 per catch) and TDs (5). Keep in mind the Steelers rookie receiving record for receptions was 61 by Troy Edwards in 1999. Edwards also had 714 receiving yards at an average of 11.7 yards per catch and 5 touchdowns. These are nearly mirror image seasons.
It’s worth noting that Troy Edwards isn’t mentioned in the opening string of “Stellar Steelers” receivers mostly due in part to his sophomore jinx of a second season in which he took a precipitous, statistical free fall to 18 receptions for 215 yards and 0 touchdowns. Further, the Steelers drafted Plaxico Burress 8th overall in the 2000 draft. So it looks like great Steelers receivers show their mettle in the sophomore seasons.
Diontae Johnson’s Sophmore Season at a Glance
To date, D.J. has 37 receptions for 436 yards and an 11.5 per catch average. He also has 4 touchdowns. Further, Johnson is coming off of his biggest single game of his sophomore season, with 6 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown.
The JuJu or Diontae Debate
Now there has been much discussion on who the Steelers’ number one receiver is. Is it JuJu Smith-Schuster or Diontae Johnson? First of all, don’t do that. These guys are young teammates who will be the building blocks for our offense for years to come. They support each other and want each other to thrive to the fullest in this Steelers offense. We don’t have to choose one. We should want both to thrive as well. Guess what folks? JuJu and Diontae can be dual number ones; that’s a good problem to have. Do you think Ben Roethilisberger minds having two number one caliber wideouts?
The Steelers have had great tandems that included contributions from two wideouts with number one receiver type of contributions, statistics and big plays at big moments. The Steelers usually won Super Bowls with them, see Swann/Stallworth, and Ward/Holmes for example.
Okay, okay, I know that I mentioned Swann and Stallworth earlier. Yes I know they’re Hall-of-Farmers. Consequently I won’t charter the trajectory of their Steelers’ career in relation to their sophomore seasons. It’s already been said, done and written. That said, I’m not comparing Diontae Johnson to those two Hall of Famers, yet. I will however look at the other aforementioned Steeler WR picks who had a profound impact on the offense and significant contributions to Super Bowl wins. I want to see how young Diontae Johnson shapes up against them.
There were few young Steeler receivers who had the sudden impact of Louis Lipps. That’s a Dirty Harry and Bill Cowher combination/reference right there; bonus points, I’m claiming em’. Lipps had 114 receptions for 1,994 yards and a whopping 21 TDS in his first two seasons with the Steelers. We’re talking averages of 57 receptions, 997 yards and 10.5 TD.s per season! Oh, and I almost forgot, Lipps averaged over 19 yards per catch in his first two seasons. Lipps was versatile also running for two touchdowns in his first two seasons. He was named All-Pro his second season and eclipsed 1000 yards while scoring 12 touchdowns.
You know what? Diontae Johnson’s first year statistics stack up quite well vs. Lipps’. For a little more perspective, David Woodley and Mark Malone were the Steelers QB during Lipps’ rookie season in 1984.
Psycho Ward was just slightly ill, lukewarm fever status, his rookie season, as he had 15 receptions for 246 yards and 0 touchdowns. However, Hines showed his big-play ability, in his second season, evidenced by his 16.4 yards per catch average. In his second year, he also became a starting wideout and improved exponentially with 61 receptions for 638 yards and 7 TDs! It’s important to note that Ward played behind Courtney Hawkins and Charles Johnson his rookie year, and Kordell Stewart was tossing him the rock the first two years of Ward’s career.
Of course, Ward became one of the most beloved and productive wide receivers in Steelers history. His second year stats showed his potential trajectory to greatness! Ward never looked back while possibly ascending to Steelers wide receiver G.O.A.T status.
Plaxico Burress’ rookie year (2000) was not a blockbuster season by any stretch of the imagination. He had 22 receptions for 273 yards, (12.4 yards per catch) and no touchdowns. He missed four games that season. It was later rumored that he played much of the season with a fractured wrist.
Whatever the case, “Plex” blew up in his second season with 66 receptions, for 1,008 yards, 6 touchdowns and a Jurassic 15.4 yards per catch. That’s a huge sophomore season step-up!
Big plays became Plex’s forte during his Steelers/Giants career culminating with his SB winning TD grab against our rival Pats!
Hines Ward added 94 receptions for 1,003 yards and four touchdowns that same season. Having two starting wideouts that contribute strongly to the Steelers offense is a blessing!
The Steelers love Ohio State Buckeyes. True to form, the Steelers drafted Santonio Holmes in 2006 and he burst into the Steelers lineup with an explosive 49 receptions for 824 yards at an epic 16.8 yards per catch and two touchdowns in his rookie campaign.
In his second year, Holmes topped his rookie totals in all areas with 52 receptions for 942 yards at an astronomical 18.1 yards per catch and 8 touchdowns. Do you see a pattern here? When the Steelers grab a receiver that fits their system they normally come into their own in a major way in year two of their Steelers career.
Mike Wallace was once one of the NFL’s most dangerous deep threats, until Tomlin the wordsmith, reduced him to “One Trick Pony” status with a swing of his mighty verbal Excalibur?
Verbal gymnastics aside, Mike Wallace’s 2009 rookie year, featured 72 targets, 39 receptions for 756 yards and a colossal 19.4 yards per game and 6 touchdowns. We’re talking his rookie year folks. The Steelers knew immediately that they had struck gold with this pick.
If Wallace’s first season was seen as a tremor, his second season was seismic in register on the Richter scale with 60 receptions for 1,257 yards a tremendous 21 yards per catch and 10 TDs. I beg your pardon Mike Tomlin, Mike Wallace clearly showed that he was a triple-crown, run for the roses type cat. His next two seasons yielded receptions of 72 and 64. Trust me Ben loved this big play receiver!
Toe Tap Tony didn’t necessarily light the world on fire in his rookie campaign. Admittedly the team had Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and Emanuel Sanders, making him the rookie, fourth fiddle. He did however taste the Super Bowl limelight as part of the Steelers young money trio along with Wallace and Emanuel Sanders in their loss to the Packers.
However Atom Ant stepped up big in his second year to the tune of 69 receptions for 1,108 yards at 16.1 yards per clip with two TDs. The rest is history.
It Takes 2
The Steelers have been adept at finding WRs that fit their system for the lat 50 years. This compilation of stats on solid Steeler WRs is just a forecast of what could be a monstrous sophomore season for Diontae Johnson.
I’m projecting a year with 65 receptions for 1,008 yards and 7 TDS for DJ in 2020. That’s nothing to sneeze at. Further it does not have to come at the expense or reduction of Juju Smith as a number 1 receiver. Many of the aforementioned WRs had monster years alongside each other. Having talented productions receivers is a good problem to have.
In the unforgettable words of soul singer/James Brown protégé’ Lynn Collins and Rob Base, “It takes two, to make a thing go right, it takes two to make it out of sight!”
In other words it takes two seasons to gauge a stellar Steelers’ receiver and possibly two of these to win big!