Diontae Johnson was injured on the final play of the game against the Raiders on Sunday afternoon in what was a meaningless play. Luckily for Johnson and the Pittsburgh Steelers, he avoided a major injury.
While his status is still in doubt for this weekend’s AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, things could’ve been a lot worse.
If Johnson does, in fact, miss time, the other wide receivers must step up. They have no choice but to do so.
In assessing the Steelers wide receiving core, they’ve got a bunch of guys who are talented enough to be number one and two receivers in the league.
JuJu Smith-Schuster proved to be a very good receiver in his rookie year. He also had Antonio Brown taking a lot of the heat off of him. While he has continued to be successful, he falls more into a very good number two receiver tier type of player. His ability to get yards after the catch and fight off defenders isn’t duplicated by many around the league. He’s as close to Hines Ward as I’ve seen since Hines Ward.
Chase Claypool has emerged as a wonderful deep threat in his second season. Not many players can highpoint a deep ball as well as Claypool does. He is totally worthy of the second-round pick the Steelers used on him last season. He does, however, have to work on becoming a better all-around receiver. Claypool must become more dynamic so the Steelers can use him for more than what seems to be their deep-ball threat.
James Washington has been the forgotten hero for a while now. After building a great rapport with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph two years ago, he has not received the same playing time following Claypool’s arrival. He is certainly deserving of more time but can’t seem to be given the opportunity. If Johnson misses any time at all, Washington immediately will be thrust into a more prominent role.
Johnson has clearly become the favorite target of Roethlisberger and deservedly so. He had 88 receptions last season for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. Johnson has already been targeted 22 times in two games this season. He has hauled in 14 of those for 141 yards and an acrobatic touchdown already. He is their number one receiver whether he’s viewed as one around the league or not.
Johnson is an elusive, quick move receiver that does a phenomenal job making people miss. He has all the tools to be a number one receiver and he’s taken the opportunity and made it his own.
With such a porous offensive line, Roethlisberger has anywhere from two-four seconds to throw the ball. He is hounded constantly by defensive linemen. Because of this, his receivers have to get open almost immediately.
That is what separates Johnson from the others on this core.
Johnson’s ability to run routes and separate from his defenders and dash across the field with the ball in his hands makes him an attractive target for Roethlisberger. Claypool doesn’t possess that ability quite yet. Smith-Schuster is good on bubble screens because he’ll fight through contact but elusiveness isn’t what he is known for. Washington is still a bit of an unknown in that area yet.
Roethlisberger relies heavily on his receivers to make him look good. If he doesn’t have Johnson, that is a top weapon gone like that. The other receivers have to step up or else what has already been an anemic offense will only look even more depleted.
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