Let me preface this by saying GOOD Antonio Brown vibes. To this point in his career, we have no reason to believe Diontae Johnson isn’t a great teammate and player. That said, his game looks so familiar to what we were used to seeing out of Brown.
His separation and skills in the open field make him such a dangerous target. During the 2020 season, when he has been on the field, he has been Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. In his five games played he has been targeted 41 times. In six games Juju Smith-Schuster has been targeted 42 times. So, despite missing a game and parts of two others with injuries he is still one target away from leading the team.
Shifty in the Open Field
During his years in Pittsburgh Brown constantly showed his skills in the open field. It is one of the reasons he was such a dynamic playmaker and such a great punt returned. Those open-field moves are one of Diontae Johnson’s biggest assets.
It's nice to have Diontae Johnson back to do things like this. Absolutely nasty cut on a dime as he snatches the Tennessee CB's ankles. pic.twitter.com/hpNZGkNPNe
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) October 25, 2020
This highlight from Sunday’s game shows Johnson’s biggest strengths. First, he is able to get amazing amounts of separation. Last season, he ranked as the number one wide receiver in the league in terms of separation from his defender.
Second, it shows his open-field skills. The cut back here is not an easy move. Johnson is so skilled that he makes it look easy. On a play that typically would be a five or six-yard completion followed by a punt, Johnson turns it into a fifteen-yard catch and run and a huge first down.
Seperation is Key
As I mentioned above, Johnson is a master of seperation.
Diontae Johnson finished 2019 as the unanimous leader in average yards of separation per target.
Johnson finished first among all WRs in average yards of separation per target according to both Next Gen Stats and Player Profiler. #Steelers
— Daniel Valente (@StatsGuyDaniel) January 4, 2020
Separation for a wide receiver is the number one difference maker between great and average receivers. N’Keal Harry, a first-round pick for the New England Patriots in 2019, is struggling to adjust to the NFL. His biggest weakness? Lack of separation. Johnson, a third-round pick in the same draft, is flourishing in the NFL. Again, because of separation.
There are many ways a receiver can create separation on a play. Great route running, speed and use of hands are all seen week-to-week in the NFL.
Belichick on Antonio Brown: "He almost always can create separation in his route…Does a good job of getting on top of the DBs."
— Phil Perry (@PhilAPerry) October 19, 2016
Creating separation is the reason Antonio Brown went from a sixth-round pick to a star in the league. Unfortunately, it was his off-field issues that derailed his stardom.
Johnson is also using separation to make his mark on the Steelers offense. His route running and ability to get open is one of the reasons he gets so many targets. Quarterbacks are always looking for the open man and when you’re always open you become a favorite target of whoever is throwing you the ball.
The Key Difference Between Diontae Johnson and Antonio Brown
We can only look at the information we have. But so far Diontae Johnson seems like a great player and a great teammate and locker room guy. That is the area that ultimately ended Antonio Brown’s career in Pittsburgh.
Now, I would be wrong to say that Brown always seemed that way. Early in his career, I met Brown in person and he was very humble and took the time to talk with me and some other fans. If you had told me then that things would end the way they did for the reasons they did I would have had a hard time believing it.
So, never say never. However, it seems that these young Steelers’ receivers are different. At least mentality wise that is, because watching Diontae Johnson is giving me big time Antonio Brown deja vu.
6-0 let’s ride 🤟🏾💯 pic.twitter.com/Dixb7H6mP1
— Diontae Johnson (@Juiceup__3) October 25, 2020