Anatomy of a WR: Diontae Johnson

By G.Stryker

Diontae Johnson is a quick twitch receiver from the University of Toledo.  He only played 3 years and is being drafted as a Junior. His sophomore year was his most productive, grabbing 13 touchdowns on 74 receptions with 1279 yards.  Last year his numbers were not as substantial scoring 8 touchdowns on 49 catches for 751 yards.

One thing that Johnson does well, that is a need for the Steelers, is he is an explosive kick returner.  In each of his last 2 seasons, he has a touchdown both as a kick and punt returner. Though Ryan Switzer did a fine job of returning last season, there is still room to upgrade the position with a player that can give your team a chance to score on a return.

If you look at his measurables, nothing really jumps out as being special.  He’s on the smaller side at 5’10” and 183lbs, only 3 receivers at the combine were smaller and only 3 receivers weighed less.  His 40 time was 4.53, not slow, but good enough to tie him for 21st out of the 37 WRs that ran it. Vertical jump was 33.5” and tied him for 33rd best.  Only 7 WRs that were tested jumped lower. He had a good broad jump of 123” over the 10’ mark and good enough to tie him for 16th with his peers. His bench reps are tied at 15 with 15 lifts.  His 3 cone of 7.09sec tied for 17th. His shuttle was 4.45 leaving him in 28th place with only 5 WRs tested as having a slower time. His results are average at best, and nowhere near having an explosive Sparq score.

With Toledo being in the MAC, I’ve had very little opportunity of seeing Johnson play, so I’m going to have to rely on what I see on his film to get a gauge of what type of receiver he can be.

0:15 Lines up in the left slot and runs a goal line out route.  Does a good job of using his hands to beat the press. I think he was expecting the ball inside since he turned that way, but the ball was thrown outside.  He adjusts well to the ball, but his hand positioning is all wonky. He catches the ball with one hand. His left hand was kind of in the way and didn’t help him secure it.  Reverse angle shows his one hand catch would not have secured the reception. Actually does regrip the football with his trail hand, to secure the TD. I would have preferred him keeping both hands on the ball through the ground, but he tries to break his fall with his left hand.  Fortunately the ball didn’t come out.

0:36 Lines up in the right slot and runs a deep post.  Bad hand mechanics here. Stabs the ball with one hand to deaden it, then catches it with his body and sprints for the 80 yard score.

0:53 Kick Return.  Shows good speed. Hits a seam, breaks an arm tackle and accelerates for the 88yd score.  Looks faster than his timed speed on this play.

1:07 Lines up alone on the left, play action, runs a fly up the seam.  Forces his DB to get crossed up on the inside outside move, and jumps, faces the ball, and high points it for a perfect catch, thumbs together, palms on the ball.

1:26 Split left, runs a fly.  Blows by his defender with a nice shimmy move.  Good hands catch. Elbows are a little out, but got both palms on the ball and quickly secured it.  His game speed is showing to be much faster than his timed runs.

1:45 Slot right, runs a fly off the play action.  Elbows still out a bit, but gets both palms on the ball and nice high step to kick through the diving tackle for a TD.

1:56 Split left and ran a deep out.  Ball thrown behind him, adjusts nicely.  Weird mechanics here, caught halfway between a one handed catch and a body catch.  Still secures it and zooms for the long touchdown.

2:14 Split right, runs a fly.  I’m not sure what he’s doing with his hands.  He kind of stabs the ball and takes about 4 bobbles to secure it.  Good concentration, but bad initial execution of getting his hands where they needed to be for an easier catch.  

2:30 Trips left, WR Screen.  Drifts back to face the QB. Both hands up palms on the football, thumbs together to secure the rock, and turns quickly upfield.  Uses his 2 blocks and runs through a tackle. Accelerates again, and sticks his foot in the ground to get the safety to turn. Inside juke to clear another DB.  Cuts back and gets gang tackled. Nice YAC reception here. It highlights his potential explosiveness.

2:45 Split left, not sure if this is a drag or a post, but he reads the D well to find a soft spot to get an open reception.  Great wiggle and elusiveness to nearly score while being tackled at the 1. Can’t see his hands.

2:59 Stacked left, goes in motion to the slot, and runs a delayed out.  Love his quick stutter step here, he has all the space in the world, and perfectly secures the ball.  Both thumbs together, both palms on the ball for another touchdown.

3:12 In motion to be the outside WR on the left then runs a down out and up.  Not sure if he traps or palm catches this one, but once the football was secured, the touchdown was guaranteed.

3:21 Split out right, and runs a skinny post.  From the backside angle on the replay, it looked like a one armed trap with his right elbow.  This is why I harp on keeping the elbows in. His elbows are wide apart here, and he’s lucky it didn’t come loose.  Good concentration on the catch with a defender draped on him.

3:28 Stacked receivers right, and he’s on the LOS. Runs a stop and go.  Looks like he was reading the QB and decided to break the route deep to give his QB an open option.  Ben loves receivers that can do this. Good reach for the extension catch.

3:43 Outside right, fakes a pattern and comes back to the LOS.  Good route for this defense playing a deep zone off of him. Good hands catch.  Speeds by 2 tackles for the score.


I expected to see more from Johnson, since the Steelers stated they had a first round grade on him.  His hand positioning is sloppy, and his routes are not as crisp as the scouts are stating. Though his measurables are average, he does look quicker and faster on the field than his timed speeds.  I’m not sure if it’s because he’s playing against MAC talent, or if he is just more of a field athlete than a combine performer.

Now on to what he does well: He uses feints and quick feet to get open along the route tree.  He’s played all 3 WR positions across the offense, and looks like he can translate to being an X or Y (slot) receiver on this team.  X was a need with Antonio Brown leaving, though JuJu Smith-Schuster should be the early favorite to fill that role.

From what I see, Johnson understands coverage, and reads the situations well.  He’s good at finding soft spots in zones, by correctly adjusting his routes to those open spaces.  He excels with the ball in his hands and becomes a runner. He knows how to use a defender’s momentum against them to extend long plays, and has a good blend of power and quickness to turn the routine play into an explosive play.  

One of the things he does best is beating press coverage at the line of scrimmage.  He uses a combination of hand checks and quick feet, with different moves to get open quickly.  Defenders can’t key on one type of break, because it looks like he has multiple ways of beating the press.  This will be really helpful in short yardage and goal line situations.

He appears to have a good Football IQ, and I think would work very well in situations where the play breaks down, and he has to find an open spot for his QB.  Ben Roethlisberger loves these plays, and I think will appreciate Johnson’s ability to anticipate and adjust to broken plays.

Ultimately, I think the Steelers drafted a player that can play three positions, as a wide receiver, kick returner, and punt returner.  In his first year, I could see him play both the X and the Slot, perhaps rotating with JuJu to create mismatches. He will have to work hard on the jugs machine to improve his hand placement, because right now, he’s making his catches tougher than they need to be.  If he smooths that out, I see hints of Antonio Brown in his game…hopefully minus the drama.

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