Carter’s Classroom: Johnson an instant starter?


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Diontae Johnson - AP

The Steelers' drafting of Diontae Johnson added another player into the battle for the team's No. 2 receiver spot. JuJu Smith-Schuster is the obvious leader of the group. But with James Washington in his second year and Donte Moncrief being a new free-agent acquisition, Johnson will be in a strong position to earn playing time in training camp.

Johnson's positive traits translate to the NFL and give him a chance to have an instant impact. Let's go through them to see why the Steelers are excited about him:

Yesterday, Dale Lolley wrote about how confident the Steelers are in Johnson's "natural" receiving skills. Johnson's 4.55 time in the 40 and his 5-foot-10 height don't pop off the charts compared to other receivers in his draft class, which is why his skills are so important.

Those "natural skills" Darryl Drake referred to in Lolley's story are his ability to get open and make plays against tight coverage. Back in March, I wrote about the Steelers' need for a receiver who can win outside the numbers, and Johnson did that plenty in Toledo.

Here he is against Michael Jackson of Miami, a decent cornerback I previewed for the site who was drafted in the fifth round by the Cowboys.

Watch the bottom of your screen as Johnson uses a quick stutter step to freeze Jackson just long enough for him to get a step behind the defense. That one step was all he needed for Mitchell Guadagni to throw a 31-yard pass down the sideline that Johnson easily pulled in:

Johnson had several such moments in college with an unheralded quarterback, so imagine the kind of plays he can make with Ben Roethlisberger in those situations.

Johnson doesn't try to beat cornerbacks by being faster. Instead, he sets up his routes by getting into position with precise footwork.

Watch how he wins this corner route from the slot. His first move is a jab step with his right foot that allows him to accelerate and quickly cross the face of his coverage. This gives him the space to turn and look for the back shoulder throw and score:

Johnson's burst on the field is extremely impressive. In tight spaces he's quick enough to beat people to a spot, but also comfortable enough with his route tree that he can mix setups of different routes to confuse cornerbacks.

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