Since entering the league in 2018 as a third-round pick out of Toledo, Pittsburgh Steelers Diontae Johnson has steadily increased his dynasty fantasy football value. Now that he’s heading into a contract year with a new quarterback under center, how has Johnson’s value changed, and what should managers do if he is on their fantasy roster?
Diontae Johnson’s dynasty profile for 2022
Volume is king when it comes to fantasy and dynasty. Follow the opportunities, and you’ll find point-scoring potential. That is precisely the case with Johnson. His value has progressively increased despite playing with a diminished QB or a backup for his entire NFL career.
After seeing 92 targets in Year 1, Johnson was sixth in the NFL with 144 during the 2020 season, which saw the return of Ben Roethlisberger after he missed all but two games the year prior. Johnson saw double-digit targets in 10 of 15 games.
However, among the 35 receivers who saw 100+ targets, Johnson was 14th in receptions (88), 29th in catch rate (61%), 24th in yards (923), 34th in yards per target (6.41), and 33rd in fantasy points per target (1.54).
The volume was there, but the efficiency was not. If the efficiency or quality of the target had risen, Johnson was in a perfect position for his dynasty value to improve.
2021 was a similar story for Johnson
Playing in 16 games last season, Johnson had a career year. He reeled in 107 passes for 1,161 yards and 8 touchdowns, finishing with 16.7 PPR points per game (ninth-best among receivers). His 169 targets were tied with Davante Adams for second behind only Cooper Kupp (191).
Johnson was fifth in receptions and eighth in total points but once again lacked efficiency. He was 77th in fantasy points per target at 1.6 PPR/tgt and 93rd in yards per target at 6.87 (minimum 25 targets). It was volume and the scoring format that helped Johnson. Recording a team-high 28% target share and 43% WR share, Johnson was a WR2 (top 24) or better in 69% of his games in 2021.
As we know, things will be different in 2022. Roethlisberger is retired, so in steps Mitchell Trubisky. It’s fair to say Trubisky might be an upgrade over Big Ben. But is he enough of an improvement to overcome the potential drop in volume?
Johnson is still a highly sought-after receiver in dynasty
Even if Johnson has a slight dip in production and is closer to a mid-WR2 for 2022, his dynasty value shouldn’t take much of a hit. Currently ranked on the cusp of the WR1 range, Johnson’s talent isn’t in question. While his current situation is a bit murky, this is a contract year.
After seeing the money being dished out to fellow receivers, Johnson will want to explore his options. If that happens, Johnson could skyrocket in the right situation and become a QB’s top target. Although Johnson might not have week-winning upside, his floor helps bolster the safety net of any dynasty roster.
Fantasy projection for Johnson
Change is a good thing in life. But it’s not quite as good in the NFL, especially when it pertains to a QB change.
When a franchise quarterback steps away, it’s difficult to hammer out projections early in the year. With that said, I still feel good about Johnson for 2022, as Trubisky might end up being an upgrade.
Let’s look at Roethlisberger’s performance last season. He had a 64.5% completion rate, 6.25 yards per attempt (29th), 6.7 air yards per attempt (second-worst), and an 86.8 QBR.
Now, compare those numbers to Trubisky’s 2018-2020 statistics (39 games). Trubisky had a 65.1% completion rate, 6.76 yards per attempt, 8.3 air yards per attempt, and an 89.8 QBR. Trubisky also threw more 20+ yard passes and had a better touchdown percentage than Roethlisberger.
What does it all mean for Johnson in 2022?
That’s a bunch of numbers, but it boils down to this — Trubisky’s throws, on average, go further down the field than Roethlisberger’s, leading to more efficiency for his receivers. Trubisky’s numbers are also very close to last season’s league average. For someone like Johnson, who will likely lead the team in targets again, that’s a good thing.
What remains to be seen is how the Steelers‘ offense will operate. They have been hyper-pass-heavy the last few years. Despite Najee Harris leading the NFL in touches (381), the Steelers threw on 63.1% of their plays (third-highest in 2021). Will that trend continue, or could we see more utilization of the running game due to the change at QB and upgrades along the offensive line?
Any reduction in passing percentage will impact Johnson more than anyone else from a fantasy perspective in 2022. I feel a safe early prediction is a blend of his 2020 and 2021 seasons.
Johnson may see a dip in volume, but he should still crack 1,000 yards with 90 or so receptions. He could post a similar stat line to 2021 Brandin Cooks, who finished as the WR20 after putting up 90/1,037/6. If that were the case, a top-20 fantasy finish is possible for Johnson in 2022.