Entering a pivotal season, Dionate Johnson is hopeful to prove that his hands will not be a problem in 2021.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a four-man wide receiver group that could be the best in football. Ben Roethlisberger’s regression or not, the quad of talent is enough to hide most of the blemishes found on offense.
Perhaps the biggest name going into a prove-it season is Diontae Johnson. Entering his third year out of Toledo, Johnson has shown when he’s on his game, there’s very little about him that can’t scream top-tier target.
One area of concern has been drops in both 2019 and 2020. Entering 2021, Johnson is determined to show the front office and the fan base that his inconsistent hands are a thing of the past.
How so? Right now, Johnson is practicing with a tennis ball machine at his home to keep a closer eye on the target.
“It’s a smaller target so you have to really focus on the ball and the object coming at you,” Johnson told Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review earlier this week. “That’s what I’ve been honing on to. Now, when I catch the football it’s easy.”
Can Diontae Johnson’s hands be a plus for the Steelers in 2021?
There’s a double-sided standard when it comes to Johnson’s play. Although he led the Steelers with 923 receiving yards in 2020, he also led the NFL with 16 dropped passes. Of those 16 drops, 14 came on plays that were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.
Overall, Johnson can’t take full blame for fumbling a pass as the Steelers led the NFL in 2020 with 30 total dropped passes. Tight end Eric Ebron had seven drops, and rookie wideout Chase Claypool totaled six.
Johnson admitted that one of his major faults was taking the eye off the ball too early. Little things such as that could play a vital role in contract extensions for any type of receiver looking for top dollar.
“I’ve got to catch the ball. That’s my job,” Johnson said. “I’m a receiver, and that’s what I’m paid to do. There are no excuses behind that. It all ties down to focus and knowing what I’m doing all the time. When a bad play happens, you have to move on, you can’t dwell on it.”
With James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster entering contract years, Johnson needs to show consistency. Claypool has three more seasons on his deal, meaning one of the three will likely be hitting free agency before the end of 2022.
Overall, Johnson’s speed and ability to win both in the slot and on the perimeter makes him a name to watch for in 2021. If his drop total diminishes, he’ll have to send a thank you card to the tennis ball launcher company for his next contract extension.