When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Diontae Johnson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, they technically used one of the picks they received from the Oakland Raiders for Antonio Brown to select the dynamic Toledo receiver.
Not only did they use the Raiders’ pick, but they drafted a player who is primarily compared to Brown as a receiver, route runner and return man. When Brown was drafted in the sixth round out of Central Michigan, he was predominantly a return man, and worked his way into the discussion at the wide receiver position.
As Johnson enters his first training camp as a professional, he has already been alerted to the conditioning necessary to succeed at the highest level. After dealing with hamstring injuries throughout minicamp and Organized Team Activities (OTAs), special teams coach Danny Smith is challenging the young player to come to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA more prepared for the rigors of NFL life.
“I don’t want to bad-rap the kid, but you saw some hamstring issues early (in rookie minicamp and OTAs). So can he? I don’t know. He’s gotta be in tip-top shape. You talk about being a wide receiver, a punt returner, a kick returner in this league? Your ‘hams’ better be in pretty good shape. He’s gotta understand that. I think that’s a maturation process. I think he’s gotta learn that.” Smith told Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com.
“We’ll see what kind of shape he comes back in and how much he can do them all. Can he carry that load remains to be seen.”
Don’t let a hint of criticism skew your view of the potential Johnson has, especially as a player who is dynamic whenever he has the football in his hands.
“I studied him a lot. I liked him a lot. I put together tape on him. I went over to Toledo to visit with him and meet him, I spent a lot of time with him. He’s a good player, a real good player. We’ll see how he handles all this at the next level but he’s a very good player.
“He’s got great hands. And if you look, he’s had some drops on returns. He has a technique issue that we’re working on, but he has great hands. He can stick his foot in the ground and change direction, he likes it, he wants to do it, that’s the upside on him. I’m excited.”
Some fans have already penciled Johnson’s name relatively high on the depth chart, and while him not making the team as a third round pick is extremely doubtful, expecting him to make big plays from the moment he walks onto the field are certainly lofty expectations. When you look at how Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and even Martavis Bryant, took some time to get acclimated on the field as a receiver, it should dampen some of the immediate expectations some have for Johnson.
The fastest way for Johnson to get on the field is by way of special teams, and if special teams coordinator Danny Smith is challenging your conditioning, it would be wise of the young man to heed his advice.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for training camp this Thursday!