You Want Diontae Johnson on Your Fantasy Football Team This Year
In 2019, Johnson led the Steelers in receptions (59), targets (92), and receiving touchdowns (5) and finished second on the team in receiving yards (680) as a rookie in 2019. He finished 40th in scoring in standard fantasy football leagues and 39th in full-PPR (point per reception). More impressively, he did all that with two backup quarterbacks -- Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph -- throwing him passes for most of the season.
With Ben Roethlisberger returning for the Steelers, the sky's the limit for Johnson. Let's take a look at his July average draft position (ADP) and see whether or not Johnson's worth the hype in his sophomore season.
Johnson's ADP rise throughout the summer has been a bit disheartening for those looking for value. While he's pegged as a "sleeper" by many, his ADP has gone from beyond the 100th pick after the season up to 79.94 in July -- a two-round jump, according to BestBall10s. The secret is out on Johnson, and his current draft position makes him a sixth-round pick in 12-team leagues.
The climb in Johnson's ADP is consistent for someone who is a popular breakout pick.
Johnson's stat line of 59 receptions (on 92 targets) for 680 yards and 5 touchdowns as a rookie was impressive, especially considering that he did it with Hodges and Rudolph. Johnson received a 66.9% snap share and a respectable 18.9% target share in his first season.
297 of Johnson's 680 receiving yards (43.67%) came after the catch, and he ranked first among wide receivers last season in target separation (2.39), per PlayerProfiler. As the Steelers No. 2, Johnson had an 88.1% true catch rate -- good for 16th-best in the league -- to go with only three drops.
In fantasy, Johnson recorded four games as a WR1 in half-PPR, including two in his final four contests. Of course, that also came along with nine weeks as the WR50 or worse. Johnson recorded five double-digit fantasy scoring games and saw at least six targets in 10 of 16 games. He also surpassed 50 receiving yards or more in 50% of his contests.
Big Ben Is Back
Roethlisberger only played one full game before injuring his elbow in Week 2 last season. The year before that, Big Ben led the league in passing yards (5,129), surpassing 5,000 for the first time in his career. Roethlisberger attempted a league-high 675 passes in 2018, completing 452 to go along with 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Since 2009, Ben has averaged 286.3 passing yards per game. In the three seasons prior to 2019, he averaged 4,399.6 passing yards and 30.3 touchdowns per campaign.
Over his last five seasons, Big Ben has posted a Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop of at least 0.21 in each campaign -- he's also had a Passing Success Rate (i.e., the percentage of drop backs that lead to positive NEP for a team’s offense) of at least 49.62% in each season. For context, last season, Rudolph's Passing NEP per dropback was -0.03, and his Passing Success Rate was 40.94%. Hodges was even worse, with a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.11 and a Passing Success Rate of 42.86%.
It should come as no surprise that Pittsburgh's offense finished the 2019 26th in pass attempts per game (31.9), 27th in points per game (18.1), and 31st in passing yards per game (186.3). With Roethlisberger under center, the Steelers offense is nothing to take lightly.
WR Competition in Pittsburgh
The Steelers return Smith-Schuster, who was banged-up in 2019, missing a career-high four games and posted career-lows across the board. In his first season without Antonio Brown and without Roethlisberger behind center, he was never able to live up to the hype. He averaged 4.2 receptions, 64.5 receiving yards, and 0.42 scores through his first seven games of the season. Over his last five contests, those numbers dropped drastically to 2.4 receptions, 21.8 receiving yards, and no touchdowns during that stretch.
James Washington returns as the Steelers' leader in receiving yards (735), largely stemming from connection with Rudolph -- as the two were teammates and roommates at Oklahoma State. That said, his relationship with Roethlisberger has yet to blossom. In his 2018 season with Roethlisberger, Washington managed just 16 receptions on 38 targets for 217 yards and 1 score.
Pittsburgh also drafted Chase Claypool from Notre Dame and signed tight end Eric Ebron from the Indianapolis Colts. Ebron could be the most significant and athletic tight end of the Roethlisberger era, and Claypool is a 6-foot-4, 238-pound wide receiver that could be limited to being a big red-zone target as a rookie.
numberFire's model projects 131 targets for Smith-Schuster, 58 targets for Washington, 61 targets for Ebron, and 45 targets for Claypool. Johnson's projection of 101 targets trail only Smith-Schuster, and with Roethlisberger projected to toss 581 passes, there's a good chance he surpasses that.
On those 101 targets, numberFire pegs Johnson for 64.9 receptions, 827.9 receiving yards, and 5.6 touchdowns in his second season. That would've been good enough to finish as the WR35 last year, which aligns with his pre-draft ranking of WR34.
Johnson's current ADP is not ideal compared to what it was months ago, but there's no doubt that he can be a steal.
As long as Roethlisberger's healthy, Johnson's ceiling is sky-high. Not many sixth or seventh-round picks are set to be targeted 100-plus times in such an explosive offense, not do they possess the fantasy potential that Johnson does.
If you're choosing between wideouts such as Will Fuller (WR33), Brandin Cooks (WR35), Mike Williams (WR38), or Sterling Shepard (WR41) in that range, I would definitely select Johnson. He's worth the hype.