On Monday Night Football in Week 15, I don’t know if any player will be under a bigger magnifying glass in fantasy football than Steelers WR Diontae Johnson. Every target will be scrutinized while people hold their breath waiting to see the outcome. After a surprise benching in Week 14, can fantasy managers trust Diontae Johnson to hang on to the ball, and his position, in Week 15?
Diontae Johnson was benched in last week’s game due to drops
Ahead of last week’s game in Buffalo, head coach Mike Tomlin vowed any player who made a habit of dropping the ball would be replaced by someone who could hang on to the ball. He made good on that promise after Diontae Johnson recorded drops on back-to-back series to open the first half against the Bills.
To be fair, Johnson isn’t the only Steelers player unable to hang onto the ball. As a team, the Steelers lead the NFL in total drops (35) and drop rate (6.3%). The Steelers have recorded 14 of those drops in the past three games, a stretch during which the team’s drop rate was 9.9%.
The second-year wide receiver out of Toledo leads the league with 12 drops. He had two in the Steelers’ loss to the Buffalo Bills and three in the loss to the Washington Football Team. He’s now had seven drops over the last three games (12 on the season).
Jonhson describes his recent issues as a “lack of focus”
“It’s just been a lack of focus,” Diontae Johnson said. “We know what we’re supposed to do when we catch the ball. … We try not to think about that too much because if you think about it, it’s going to show in your play. We’re just trying to go far by making plays each and every snap, just locking in a little more than what you normally would do.”
On Saturday, he said being pulled cam as a surprise to him.
“I really didn’t have a clue,” he said Saturday after practice. “When I dropped the first one, I just thought I’ve got to make a play; I’ve got to do something. Then when I dropped the second ball — I had it, and as I went to tuck it, it slipped out of my hands and dropped. After that, he pulled me. I was a little bit upset, but there’s nothing I can do. At the end of the day, I have to catch the ball, plain and simple.”
Johnson clearly received the message and responded precisely how you want a top talent to do in an adverse situation.
Re-inserted for the second half with the Steelers trailing, Johnson hauled in all three of his targets for 28 yards, including a 17-yarder into the Buffalo red zone.
Diontae Johnson put up 8PPR fantasy points with four receptions on seven targets for 40 yards. His targets tied for the team lead in Week 14. However, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington were the ones to score.
Johnson has been Roethlisberger’s favorite target this season
If you just look at his fantasy rankings, you might be a bit underwhelmed. He is WR31 in PPR with 167.7 points on the season and has averaged 14 points per game (27th).
However, Diontae Johnson has seen 113 targets on the season. That’s 15th in the NFL (including TEs) and is 21.6% of the team’s target share. Next is Smith-Schuster, at 19.3% (101 targets), and third is rookie Chase Claypool with 16% (84 targets).
Johnsson has turned those 113 targets into 69 receptions for 694 yards and five touchdowns, which is somewhat disappointing, honestly.
Diontae has underachieved based on the volume he has seen
Among players with over 100 targets (21), Johnson is 20th in receptions and receiving yards. He is 16th in touchdowns and last in completion percentage (61.1%).
Diontae Johnson is 20th of the 21 players with 100 or more targets from a fantasy points per game basis. His 167.7 points are dead last. You have to drop down to Russell Gage (26th in targets at 94) to find a player Johnson has outscored.
However, he gets a chance to make up for all of this against the Bengals.
What should fantasy managers expect out of Diontae Johnson for Week 15?
With a championship appearance on the line, the stakes could not be any higher. Luckily, I have confidence in Diontae Johnson for fantasy in Week 15. I think the message was well-received, and he will come into a must-win game for the Steelers with a renewed focus.
When these teams met in Week 10, Diontae Johnson had a career day. He caught six of his career-high 11 targets for 116 yards and a touchdown. In fact, all three Steelers receivers finished as top-24 options in PPR that game.
On a per-target basis, the Bengals give up 1.84 points per target. This is huge for someone like Johnson, who has seen double-digit targets in eight games this season, including five of his last six.
Even when ahead, the Steelers will continue to throw. This leads to fantasy points throughout the game for all three players. Both Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster are inside my top-24 WRs on the week, and Chase Claypool is a low-end WR3.
He has played in 67% or fewer of the snaps in each of the last five games. He’s still seen at least six targets in six of the last seven games. Tomlin said they are trying to manged his load to keep him from hitting the rookie wall. He has a chance to break one loose every game, but the limited snaps worry me a touch.
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