Should You Start Diontae Johnson or George Pickens in Fantasy Football Week 1?

Just days until the first NFL Sunday of 2023, who should fantasy managers look to start between Steelers’ WRs Diontae Johnson and George Pickens?

The calendar has officially turned over to the NFL regular season. With it comes many grueling questions for fantasy managers. How do I best combat the strengths of my fantasy opponent? Who should I start? Who should I bench? What players should go in the Flex position?

Sometimes, these decisions between players happen within the same real-life team. There are many franchises in the NFL that have more than one talented player in a single position group that we want to start on our teams. With the same opposing defense matched up against these players, who has the leg up?

With this in mind, let’s take a look at one of these position groups: the Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receivers. And let’s try to answer the question of who you should start between Diontae Johnson and George Pickens in Week 1.

Diontae Johnson Fantasy Outlook this Week

The 2022 season was not everything we were hoping for from Johnson. Coming off a fabulous 2021 season in which he totaled 1,161 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 107 receptions, Johnson was a hot-ticket item before last season.

But with the departure of Ben Roethlisberger and new quarterbacks in Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett, Johnson (and the Steelers offense) didn’t perform well in 2022. Johnson was still able to corral 86 passes and had 882 yards receiving, but he dipped from WR9 in 0.5 PPR in 2021 to WR39 in 2022.

This has dropped Johnson’s stock significantly heading into 2023, but I think he’s still as talented as ever. Premier players rarely fall off the cliff between the age-25 and age-26 seasons in the NFL. And while the catches were rarer and the yards per catch were fewer, Johnson was still sixth in the league in targets a season ago.

In Week 1, I think Pickett will be targeting the former third-round pick early and often against a stout 49ers defense. And when it comes to start/sit decisions, we have to always look for opportunity. The fact that Johnson is a target hog, seeing 27% of the Steelers’ looks last year, makes him a good bet to be involved in 2023 from the jump.

George Pickens Fantasy Outlook this Week

Leave it to the Steelers to have several great wide receivers on their team at one time. It’s their specialty. While Johnson has been with the team for four seasons, this will be the second year for George Pickens in the Steel City.

Pickens had a strong debut in his rookie year. The young WR tallied 801 yards on 52 receptions and scored four touchdowns. While the yardage was just below Johnson’s for top on the team, Pickens did find pay dirt, something Johnson couldn’t boast about.

Pickens was third on the team in targets, behind Johnson and tight end Pat Freiermuth. But when he did get the ball thrown his way, it was typically for bigger plays. While Johnson had only 10.3 yards per reception, Pickens averaged 15.4 yards.

The story here breaks down into a tale of two different receiver types: the heavily targeted, possession receiver in Johnson and the home run, big-time playmaker in Pickens.

Which of the Steelers’ WRs Should You Start?

This is a tough choice for our fantasy teams, as both receivers offer something a little different. While I do love the chance to find the end zone and see a big play with Pickens, my start this week would be Johnson.

The 49ers boast one of the best defenses in the NFL. They rarely give up big plays, and teams have to often take what is given to them. This favors Johnson’s style of play.

MORE: FREE Fantasy Football Start/Sit Optimizer

With a tough defensive matchup, I ultimately want to start the veteran who saw nearly nine targets per game in 2022 over the second-year receiver who saw five targets per game. This is purely playing the odds that more opportunity will equal more points.

While all it takes is one big play for Pickens to out-pace Johnson, the Steelers have to manage this game in order to win it. And if they find themselves down early, I’d rather trust open receivers being found underneath the coverage rather than over the top of it against a defense that limits big plays. All signs point to Johnson being the smarter start in this one.

On PFN’s consensus Week 1 rankings, Johnson is this week’s WR29, while Pickens lands at WR34.

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