Tim Benz: Diontae Johnson is Steelers’ biggest ‘what if’ in passing game
The “Breakfast with Benz” podcast is back at Saint Vincent College for Steelers training camp.
For all the questions that face the Steelers in terms of how the passing game will do without Antonio Brown, the path to success is clear.
• JuJu Smith-Schuster needs to transform from Robin to Batman.
• Donte Moncrief needs to be better than the abundantly average pass-catcher he was in Indianapolis and Jacksonville.
• James Washington needs to make a big leap from a disappointing rookie season.
• It’d help if either Eli Rogers or Ryan Switzer seized the slot job outright.
• Vance McDonald needs to stay healthy at tight end.
• Ben Roethlisberger and Randy Fichtner should probably incorporate running backs James Conner and Jaylen Samuels even more than they did a year ago.
Then there is third-round pick Diontae Johnson. He’s a total X-factor. If he’s the Brown clone we want him to be, he could singlehandedly keep this passing game at the elite level it was a year ago.
If he’s at least moderately impactful, that’ll go miles toward buffering the loss of Brown in the first place.
If he’s as spotty of a rookie this year as Washington was last year, then all those other scenarios listed above better pan out.
Johnson could be a great complement if some of those issues don’t click or if injuries occur.
The team’s second pick in this year’s draft has the versatility to play in the slot, outside and return kicks.
His athleticism doesn’t seem to be in question. What is concerning is his inability to stay healthy, so far. Hip, groin and hamstring injuries have hampered his practice time.
But as Johnson told me in this podcast, he’s optimistic that the learning he has done to this point will pay off and he can contribute early in 2019.