NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks released his Top 15 players of the 2019 NFL Draft and Pittsburgh Steelers’ Diontae Johnson failed to make the cut. To add a little fuel to the fire, five other wide receivers made the list ahead of him including Deebo Samuel, AJ Brown, DK Metcalf, Terry McLaurin, and finally Hunter Renfrow. While it is hard to argue position versus position on this list, I have a bone to pick with Johnson not being a top five receiver in this class, Mr. Brooks.
Johnson was the 10th receiver drafted in 2019 as a result of the Antonio Brown trade that yielded the Steelers an extra 3rd round pick. While draft position can be meaningless, his stats paint a clearer picture of why the Steelers selected him over some of those ranked above him. Johnson ranks 1st in receptions (254), 4th in yards (2,764), and 4th in receiving touchdowns (20) when compared to the rest of the 2019 draftees since coming into the NFL. So the question remains, why isn’t he commanding the respect of his peers like his fellow 2019 draftees?
It is easy to forget that Johnson had quite the 2021 season statistically, finishing top 10 in both receptions and yards in the NFL. This was all with a quarterback of which certain individuals who PROFESSIONALLY FOCUS on FOOTBALL would call the worst starter in the NFL. Not to mention Johnson had to play with both Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges for a majority of his rookie year during the 2019 season. Only McLaurin has a case like Johnson when it comes to the quality of their quarterback, but Johnson was able to stand out in a crowded receiver room that had JuJu Smith-Schuster and Chase Claypool while McLaurin was primarily a solo act. Brown, Metcalf, Renfrow, Samuel have all had an advantage in regards to quarterback play.
I also believe recent bias is a big part why J0hnson seems to be forgotten. I won’t take away from McLaurin, Brown, or Metcalf as they have all played extremely well since entering the league, but Renfrow and Samuel are the hot commodities in the NFL streets. Renfrow benefitted in large part to the Las Vegas Raiders receiver room being down right atrocious and number one target, tight end Darren Waller missing 6 games. His huge spike in success is rather a case of circumstance than his actual ability but let’s keep going. Samuel is a very hot name in the NFL not only because of his receiving talents but what he can do as a runner or better yet as a running back. He is currently in a contract dispute with the San Francisco 49ers in large part to his monumental 2021 season having 1,770 scrimmage yards (1,405 receiving, 365 rushing) and 14 total touchdowns. Before the 2021 season, I think some would argue that Samuel could be heading toward “bust” status as he missed over half of the 2020 season and in 2019 failing to surpass 1,000 yards receiving.
Now Brooks was nice enough to put Johnson on his honorable mention list, but I still find it blasphemous Johnson was not considered a top five receiver in this class. Year over year he has increasingly gotten better both in stats and just overall growth in his game. Take into account the 2020 season, most Steelers fans wanted to behead Johnson for the 13 dropped passes he had. Fast forward to 2021 and he had only five during a season in which he was targeted 25 more times! Either way, it is just more fuel to the fire for a Steelers team that is going to be overlooked all year long.
What do you think about this list, Steeler Nation? Drop a comment below!