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Pittsburgh Steelers Team Preview: Diontae Johnson | Fantasy Football

Diontae Johnson Fantasy

As a die-hard Steelers fan, this is going to be easier to write than the Browns article. This will also be a pro-Diontae article, so the lede is not buried. We will cover the stats behind why he is still a good pick and some items to watch for, such as Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada (this writer just let out a big “sigh”). This is only my second article for the Club Fantasy folks, but I am a huge proponent of looking at the sum of the parts rather than the individual.

Despite having a bucket of skills that will still make him a strong fantasy pick for your team, Diontae Johnson could have an uphill battle to show you that value right out of the gate. Let’s get into it.

Diontae Johnson 2023 Fantasy Football Outlook

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Now you may be thinking, “How can Diontae Johnson be a stud WR in 2023 when he had ZERO TDs in 2022?”. That is absolutely a fair question.

He also had fewer than 900 yards in 2022, but some other stats tell you a story that hasn’t been told yet. He was targeted 147 times which is the second-highest total of his career. His yards per target remained basically the same as in 2021, where he had over 1000 yards and 8 TDs. Diontae also touched the ball 93 times throughout the season, also the second-highest of his career. It’s not like the Steelers forgot about him. They just had some connection issues between him and rookie QB Kenny Pickett. There were times when Diontae would run a streak, and Pickett would either miss him or completely miss him in his WR progression. Meaning the young QB didn’t scan his WRs in the progression from primary to secondary etc.

Not all of Johnson’s troubles can be placed squarely at Pickett’s feet. Enter Matt Canada, the Steelers offensive coordinator. Canada’s offense has put the Steelers toward the bottom in terms of yards per game. In both 2021 and 2022, they ranked 24th. In 2022, they ranked 26th in points scored. They ranked last in passing TDs. Matt Canada came in towards the sunset years of Ben Roethlisberger. While Big Ben was certainly up there in age, it was rumored that his offensive philosophy made Ben’s decision to retire much easier (Yes, I know Ben was basically held together with duct tape).

All that to be said, Canada is on the hot seat. Steelers have put quite a bit into Kenny Picket, Diontae Johnson, and George Pickens. There is absolutely no way that Diontae goes without a TD in 2023, given the touches and targets stats from previous years.

The Scheme

The Steelers like Matt Canada’s split-zone jet sweep scheme for running plays. They just don’t love that his passing plays usually don’t mesh well with his running formations. Meaning it’s easy to sniff out a run versus a pass.

Enter Glenn Thomas.

Glenn Thomas, an offensive assistant, is another offensive-minded coach from the PAC 12. His wide zone passing offense gives a little more time to QBs as it moves the pocket a bit and gives a little more power to bootleg passes.

What does this mean for Diontae?

This means that he should see the ball more, as the mesh of running and passing offenses will keep defenses a little more honest. Thomas also likes to add a little more spice to the passing game. While the “dink and dunk” will still be there to start, we will begin to see more yardage passing plays worked in for the 2023 season than what we saw in 2022.

This would include modified post routes towards the center of the field, which creates voids on the side of the field (open seam routes). Diontae loves the seam route. It’s very possible that we will start to see the exciting Steelers offense we have been clamoring for.

The Competition

Diontae is surrounded by one young talented WR, George Pickens, and then a veteran WR Allen Robinson. I can see Allen Robinson’s daily affirmations now “Mitch Trubisky isn’t starting. Mitch Trubisky isn’t starting. Mitch Trubisky isn’t starting.”. Behind the starters are a hodge podge of other teams’ former draft picks from yesteryear and Miles Boykin. So, no real competition.

There seems to be a redzone connection between Pickett and Pickens, with Johnson sometimes getting the leftovers. But, with the new offensive assistant in town and with Johnson still being a standout veteran, you should expect some fireworks this season. He can’t have another season like 2022. That would be a career killer, and the Steelers wouldn’t do that to him.

The Price

At an ADP of around 75. Diontae Johnson is a great catch. His counterpart, Pickens, is going about 78. So that tells you there’s not a lot of hope for the Steelers’ offense by those in the fantasy community. They aren’t looking at what’s not being said with the numbers. Johnson is a big part of this Steeler’s offense, as noted by the number of touches he received in 2022. To be honest, for both of these receivers, it’s a steal. ADP for receivers like Michael Pittman is around 54, which is way too high. Your fantasy team will thank you if you draft Diontae Johnson this year.

The Projections

Johnson should be on track to get 1000 yards this season with six TDs. It could be more, but with Pickens and TE Pat Friermuth being good red-zone targets, six is a pretty good number. Remember, even though it hasn’t been said because the Steelers don’t air their dirty laundry, Matt Canada is on the hot seat. Glenn Thomas is there to help make this offense climb out of the dredges of the bottom and get their WRs some catches and touchdowns. To be honest, they have nowhere to go but up. So grab on to this offense as a “buy low, sell high” opportunity.

Be sure you’re following Adam on Twitter. You can also find more of his Club Fantasy work here!

A Look Inside the Pittsburgh Steelers

Editor’s Note: We don’t want to leave you hanging on the rest of the team. While Adam focused on Diontae Johnson in fantasy football, here is a quick look at the other fantasy-relevant Steelers written by Ryan Weisse.

Kenny Pickett

Putting it bluntly, Kenny Pickett was not good for fantasy football last year. His only multi-TD game was in Week 4, and they were both rushing TDs. There is hope for improvement in Year 2, but you aren’t drafting him in single-QB leagues.

Najee Harris

Harris was a solid fantasy asset as a rookie despite his 3.9 YPC. His volume, specifically in the passing game, made him the RB3 overall in 2021. In 2022, his efficiency got worse, and his volume went down. He still finished as a top-15 RB. I don’t want to say he can’t get worse, we saw where that got us last year, but it feels like he has a pretty safe top-20 floor and the upside to be one of the top RBs in fantasy.

Jaylen Warren

Warren was better than Harris in most categories last year…but backup running backs are supposed to be more efficient. No Pittsburgh backup RB has touched the ball more than 125 times over the previous six seasons. It’s hard to say Warren will buck that trend, no matter how much hype he gets in the preseason.

George Pickens

Pickens in the perfect 1B to Diontae Johnson. Their games are wildly different, and Pickens played the role quite successfully as a rookie. He averaged over 15 yards per catch and caught almost 62% of the balls thrown his way. There is no reason not to expect improvement in Year 2, and Pickens could be a top-25 WR in fantasy this year.

Allen Robinson

Allen Robinson was everyone’s favorite sleeper in Los Angeles last year. Now he tops most people’s “Will Not Draft” lists. He only played 10 games as a Ram, barely averaged five targets per game, and managed just eight fantasy points per contest. Now he goes to WR3 in a lower passing volume offense. No, thank you.

Pat Freiermuth

A lot is made of Diontae Johnson doing well in fantasy without scoring any TDs, but almost the same could be said of Freiermuth. He improved on his rookie season, finishing as the TE7 despite scoring just two TDs. If he had matched the seven TDs he scored as a rookie, he would’ve beaten Evan Engram for TE5 overall. The issue in 2023 is one of volume. Will Freiermuth maintain 100 targets as Pickens improves and the team adds Allen Robinson? Will they get Najee Harris back involved in the passing game? These are the questions that make Freiermuth risky as mid-round TE. If you’re not going to pay up for one of the big names but are too scared to stream, he could be a diamond in the rough in the middle rounds.

We will be covering every team this offseason. So check back here often for all of our A Look Inside articles