Second-year breakout? Diontae Johnson is a value in 2020 fantasy drafts

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looking healthy, Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson is a value in 2020 fantasy drafts.

With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looking healthy and on track to start in Week One, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson continues to be a mid-to-late round value in 2020 fantasy football drafts. After posting an impressive 59-690-5 TD rookie year stat line while catching passes from Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges, Johnson will explode in his second season with the gun-slinging Roethlisberger back under center.

Pittsburgh’s offense should bounce back in 2020, presenting Johnson with the opportunity to massively out-perform his current 106 FleaFlicker Half-PPR ADP. Johnson isn’t the most athletic prospect (more on that later), but he is an elite route-runner largely expected to win the WR2 job over James Washington.

Before we look ahead to the 2020 NFL season, we must first look at the process of how we got here. Along with using Consistency Score (CS) to look at Johnson’s rookie season in the NFL, we’ll also use Relative Athletic Score (RAS) for a peek at the former Toledo standout’s athletic traits.

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Diontae Johnson’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS)

After a standout three-year career at Toledo, Johnson entered his name into the 2019 NFL Draft. Johnson was the big kid on the playground in college, often looking like he was in a different weight class than his fellow competitors in the MAC.

Despite his sensational film at Toledo, Johnson’s sub-par athletic traits put him directly in the middle of the “Film vs. Analytics” debates we often see on #FantasyTwitter. As someone that falls somewhere in the middle of that debate, I was higher on Johnson than most in 2019 rookie drafts.

Johnson’s Consistency Score (CS)

A metric created by Pro Football Network fantasy analyst Phillip Caldwell, Consistency Score doesn’t look at overall points scored, but instead looks at how consistent each player is throughout the season. More consistent fantasy-producers are better season-long investments than inconsistent boom/bust prospects since they produce more starter-quality weeks.

Johnson’s average CS of 2.36 is about what you’d expect from a rookie transitioning from the MAC to the NFL while also catching passes from future lifelong career-backups Rudolph and Hodges. With James Washington (2.60 CS, WR56) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (2.49 CS, WR58) not far from Johnson in the rankings, I’m not going to hold Pittsburgh’s 2019 quarterback play against the wide receiver’s 2020 value.

A look at Johnson’s 2019 rookie season

Despite subpar quarterback play and inconsistent playing-time early in the season, Johnson still managed to finish the 2019 season as WR41 in half-PPR fantasy football leagues. Johnson didn’t have a single 100-yard receiving game in 2019, but he showed a solid floor with 4+ receptions and at least 60 receiving yards in six out of 16 games.

Johnson was also quietly one of the better punt returners in the NFL last season. The Steelers rookie led the league in 2019 with a 12.4 yard per punt return average (minimum one return per game) and finished No. 6 in yardage with 248 punt return yards on only 20 returns.

While you don’t get points for punt return yards in the vast majority of fantasy leagues, you do get points for return touchdowns. That handful of return scores per year can often be the difference between a win and a loss. We do have to keep an eye on how this shakes out in the regular season, as it makes sense to limit Johnson’s special teams work as his offensive snaps increase.

Diontae Johnson’s fantasy value in 2020

With Roethlisberger returning and an expected increase on his 66.2% snap-percentage from 2019, Johnson was someone that I expected to soar up 2020 fantasy boards. But for whatever reason, the hype train behind Johnson has barely reached a roar.

There have been plenty of big-name fantasy analysts touting Johnson’s impending 2020 breakout, so it isn’t like he’s some unknown secret only available to the 1% of fantasy elites. I’m taking Johnson as my WR4 or WR5 in a ton of drafts this season, which I think is a steal for a wide receiver with top-24 potential.

Other 2020 late-round value WR’s similar to Diontae Johnson

If you miss out on Johnson or aren’t comfortable with Roethlisberger’s injury, there are plenty of other late-round values available in 2020 fantasy drafts. Additional value wide receivers include Christian Kirk, Jamison Crowder, Darius Slayton, Emmanuel Sanders, and Preston Williams.

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Out of these guys, Crowder and Slayton are my favorite options if Johnson is taken in front of me. Crowder is in-line to see a ton of volume with the New York Jets, while Slayton very much looked the part in his rookie season. I am mostly fading Kirk due to his lack of projected volume, but at a certain point, he becomes too good of a value to turn down.

Jordan Woodson is a fantasy analyst for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter @Jordan_Woodson.


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