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Ron Cook: Diontae Johnson is paid like a top WR, but he hasn't played like one

Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Football

Mike Tomlin answered 23 questions at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday. Three of the first seven were about Diontae Johnson. Surprisingly, Tomlin wasn't asked if he has put out a missing-person bulletin on Johnson, who hasn't been seen much on a football field this season.

Johnson hardly was seen at all on Sunday in the Steelers' 37-30 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. He was targeted just five times and had four catches for 21 yards. Ten games into the season, he still doesn't have a touchdown catch.

This is the team's alleged top receiver?

"I don't really want to speak too much on that," said a forlorn-looking-and-sounding Johnson after the Bengals game. "A lot of that stuff is out of my control. I know it looks like I'm not involved, but it is what it is. The situation that I'm in, I've got to deal with it."

This isn't what Johnson was expecting after his first three NFL seasons, all of which were productive. Last season, his 107 catches tied for fifth-most in the league. His 1,161 receiving yards ranked 10th. He had eight touchdown catches.

But this season?

 

Johnson is tied for 14th in the NFL with 51 catches. His 456 receiving yards rank 47th, just behind Pat Freiermuth (482) and just ahead of George Pickens (453). Most alarming, his average yards per catch is 8.9, down from 10.9 last season. How troubling is that? Hines Ward averaged 8.3 yards per catch in his final season when he no longer could play.

This also wasn't what the Steelers expected from Johnson after they signed him to a two-year, $36.7 million contract extension in August that runs through the 2024 season. His salary cap hit of $7.6 million ranks fifth on the team this season and will jump to fourth next season at $16.3 million behind only T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

At the time, Johnson's new deal seemed like a bargain because of the way the market had exploded for wide receivers.

Now, it seems like a mistake.

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