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PFF thinks Diontae Johnson will have a breakout year in his third season

(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Diontae Johnson had 88 receptions for 923 yards (10.5 average) and seven touchdowns last season, along with being targeted a team-high 144 times. So, the Toledo product had a productive year in 2020, but he was hindered by drops, leading the league in drops with 16.

According to Sports Info Solutions, 14 of Johnson's drops were within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Johnson managed to improve when it came to catching the ball late in the year after being benched by Mike Tomlin for most of the first half against the Bills in Week 14 after two drops, but the drops were still a blemish on his 2020 campaign.

Johnson's release from the line of scrimmage is tremendous, and he's by far the Steelers' best route runner. So if he can figure out the drop issues, he certainly has the potential to have a breakout year in his third season, as Pro Football Focus indicates.

"Diontae Johnson is too good at too many things to avoid a huge season for long," Sam Monson of PFF wrote. "He has already been reasonably productive and looked like Pittsburgh’s best receiver in 2020, but consistency and a struggling Steelers passing game have at times held him back.

"Johnson gets open as well as any receiver in the NFL, which is a great starting point for success. Over his first two seasons in the league, he has been charted as open on 46% and 48% of his targets — that is 6-8 percentage points higher than the league average. If Ben Roethlisberger can improve on an unconvincing 2020 season and give the Steelers passing game some more teeth, Johnson will be open and looking for targets.

"His numbers last season should have been significantly better — a league-leading 14 drops left a lot of meat on the bone. But drops are a volatile data point that come and go by season, and Johnson is unlikely to be burned as badly in that area going forward."

Johnson is looking to bounce back in 2021 and attributes his drops last year as being an issue of focus. To help combat that issue he's been working on catching smaller objects this offseason.

"I have been working on everything," Johnson said at minicamp. "You can't focus on one specific thing. Yeah, I had drops last year but that comes with focus and stuff like that. Just having confidence in myself. I have been believing in myself every time and knowing every time that ball comes my way, I am going to make that catch.

"I have been catching on my tennis ball machine I bought this offseason. It's a smaller target so you have to focus on the ball. It's not a big object coming at you. Now when I catch a football, it's always been easy to me, but it's that focus and keeping it.

"Taking your eye off the ball that one split second. That is the main thing. Focus. I have been focusing on catch first, run second."


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