“In any war, there are calms between storms. There will be days when we lose faith. Days when our allies turn against us… but the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.” – Optimus Prime
To be completely honest, I have no idea what that quote has to do with anything. I haven’t done any long-form writing unrelated to work in over a year, maybe two, so I’m just trying to shake the rust off. Bear with me. I needed something deep and intriguing for the readers to skip through quickly.
In all reality, my opening quote is kind of making a mockery of those who take playing a game with “fantasy” in the title so serious that it has become one of the most important pieces of their own life. Oh wait, that’s me. Shoot.
Now, don’t take my early jokes as a reason to not see how serious I am about the content within this article. These are legitimate, well-thought-out, and researched predictions, arguments, and facts (sorta). I feel it’s part of my duty on this planet to let the people know that Diontae Johnson is really, really good at football. I am officially planting my flag as *the* number one Diontae Johnson supporter in the industry. Am I allowed to say that I’m part of the industry? In my first article? Whatever.
One of the most important pieces to fantasy football is your ability to find diamonds in the rough throughout the offseason and draft process. Or, really, find your diamonds when others are making mistakes.
Now, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson isn’t a small name by any means — especially after finishing as the wide receiver 21 in PPR scoring last season — but he is being gauged as a player who is unlikely to repeat or even topple his past success. His current average draft position, according to FantasyPros, is the wide receiver 23. The offseason following his mini-breakout has contained very little chatter in regard to the upside of Diontae Johnson, which brings a huge, looming question to my brain. Why not?
Diontae will be a third year, 25-year-old wide receiver returning as the far-and-away target leader in the league’s most pass heavy offense. In many ways, Diontae is very safe in comparison to his current asking price, which has led to him becoming an auto-draft, for me, in the 5th round of drafts. Would I take a player who was 6th in targets last season as my wide receiver 3? Yes!!!!!!!!!!! Every. Single. Time.
Anyway, that’s a long enough introduction. Here are three key reasons as to why you should be IN on Diontae Johnson
Reason 1: Volume
As mentioned before, Johnson was 6th in targets last season with a total of 144, despite only playing 75% or more snaps in 12 of the 16 possible games. Diontae missed three games early in the season due to an injury, along with missing a half due to a benching in Week 14 because of drops (which we will get to later).
In those 12 games where he reached that 75% snap threshold, Johnson averaged 12 targets per game. More than Davante Adams (10.6), Keenen Allen (10.5), Stefon Diggs (10.4), and the rest of the NFL, according to FantasyPros. Even when including the Week 14 drops debacle, Diontae averaged 11.08 targets per game in his 13 healthy games.
And for those who like to hold injuries against players (sickos), I will remind you that he was SIXTH IN TOTAL TARGETS WHILE MISSING THREE GAMES!!!!
Following the Week 14 benching that had fantasy managers scared, Diontae had 13 and 14 targets the following two weeks. According to Player Profiler, he also led the entire league in hog rate (targets per snap). I’m not saying he will see a 204 target season, as the math suggests, but I think upwards of 160-175 targets could be in the cards. He is the most hyper-targeted player in football, and could be the 5th player that you select from your draft. Just absolutely disgusting value.
Sure, there are concerns that Claypool could breakout, or Juju Smith-Schuster could revert into a good wide receiver again, but both are possible in the shadow of Diontae’s full accession to stardom. There isn’t going to be a massive 25% or more target shift in the Steelers receiving room. At least not in one season, and certainly not while Diontae Johnson is on the roster. I believe the Claypool hype is much more likely a season from now when Smith-Schuster is off of the tag and they locate a quarterback who doesn’t have a shoulder made out of leftover rump roast.
Reason 2: Total Drops vs. Drops Rate
I feel that the entire case against Diontae Johnson hinges on the prime time Week 14 benching. For whatever reason, Diontae has basically become a joke on Twitter because he “led the NFL in drops.” Yes, it’s true, he led the league in drops (13), but I’d much rather look at a statistic like drop rate.
As the tweet shows, great players drop passes. It’s simply part of the game, and we shouldn’t allow our brains to melt when it does — especially for those players who see so many targets in a season.
From year 1 to year 2, Diontae’s drop percentage increased from approximately 6.5% to 9.0%. If anything, I expect that number to regress back toward the 6.5%, or even lower with an offseason focused on improving that area of his game.
Another thing that we have to take into consideration are the types of catches that Diontae was being asked to make last season. The vast majority of his targets were in traffic behind linebackers or shortly passed the line of scrimmage with surrounding defenders, which are, objectively, highly difficult. If the pass dropping trend continues, we can reassess the situation next season, but until then, let’s bank on the budding ability of Diontae holding his volume and continuing to climb up the ladder of professional pass catchers.
Reason 3: Myth: Diontae’s Targets are Short and Invaluable
First off, volume (the majority of the time) is King. Follow the volume and upside will come. In my opinion, the location you’re receiving your opportunities doesn’t matter if there’s enough of them. As I’ve previously mentioned, that isn’t an issue in this case.
From my understanding, many are nervous to roster Diontae because of Ben’s wimpy arm and the location of Diontae’s targets.
In 2020, according to Player Profiler, Johnson ranked 88th in average depth of target with 8.2 yards and 88th in yards per reception at 10.5. Neither of those numbers are very appetizing for managers looking for upside. However, despite those inefficiencies, he was also the 15th best player in football after the catch, which shows the room for improvement that could be obtained this season. Both of those poor rankings could be stretched closer or beyond what he showed his rookie season (9.2 ADOT and 11.5 YPR) when he led his draft class in receptions.
While everyone wants a fantasy wide receiver that can stretch the field with the best of them and make the splash plays, some of the best receivers in the league are playing, well, football. They are used in ways to help engineer their team’s offense because they own that part of the field and are relied upon for their savvy separation skills.
Here are some other wide receivers who don’t hear the negative energy that Diontae does, despite having similar or worse metrics from last season. Click the player link to reveal who the player is.
Diontae — 144 targets, 88 receptions, 8.2 aDOT, 10.5 YPR
Player 1 — 147 targets, 100 receptions, 7.4 aDOT, 9.9 YPR
Player 2 — 130 targets, 90 receptions, 7.1 aDOT, 10.4 YPR
Player 3 — 132 targets, 100 receptions, 9.7 aDOT, 10.5 YPR
While nobody is a sure thing in football, the talent and opportunity that Diontae Johnson possesses, at minimum, gives you terrific stability for your roster at his current draft position. Many missed the opportunity to ride the wave of his miniature breakout last season, so don’t be left watching this time around when earnin’ and burnin’, snappin’ necks and cashin’ checks!