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2023 Flag Plants: Diontae Johnson

Johnson had a down 2022 season but expect a major return to WR2 value heading into 2023.

Diontae Johnson has been an excellent receiver since coming into the league. He has proven to be the Steelers’ WR1 and a good WR2 for fantasy football. He offers upside with an elite target share in an offense that leans on their veteran to produce on the field. Johnson is a player with some upside but is considered a WR3 for fantasy. He leads a team of young, inexperienced players and older veterans past their prime in the Steelers’ offense. Johnson sits at a prime age for a receiver to be able to produce at a high level in 2023 in our dynasty leagues. He also finished WR39 without recording a touchdown in 2022. Imagine he scored five in 2022; that could have put him as a top 15 receiver.

What Went Wrong In 2022

The word touchdowns and Johnson had a terrible relationship in 2022. Johnson had zero touchdowns last year, which was almost possible, especially since he has had 147 targets. Johnson also dealt with drops, something he seems unable to solve since he has had 18 over the last two years. Johnson’s ability after the catch took a dramatic drop from 2021. In 2021, he was sixth in YAC with 506, but in 2022, Johnson was 47th with 203 yards. The overall offense went through a change after years with Big Ben; the team was left with Mitch Trubiksy and Kenny Pickett. You saw its effect on Johnson, who was dead last in passer rating when targeted (61.2%) among receivers with over 100 targets.

2023 Season Changes

Johnson, for one, will catch some touchdown passes in 2023. Since he already had a historical type of 2022 without a touchdown based on the target, receptions, and yards he had, but not getting a touchdown was a unique season. Let’s also throw in that Johnson was the tenth in red zone targets in 2022 but failed to record a touchdown. Johnson has now been top ten in red zone targets in back-to-back years. A season without a touchdown was bizarre for a player who had this time of opportunity. Johnson, who had 15 touchdowns over the last two years prior, should be able to find his way back at the end of the 2023 season. Overall positive regression should be in full focus for Johnson.

The progression of Pickett is a must to get Johnson back on track. Johnson, under Pickett, had solid yardage, but the target accuracy Johnson received was below average. If Pickett can progress into year two, Johnson should continue to pick up where he left off in 2021. The OC, Matt Canada, is still there and has continued to use Johnson as their primary WR1 weapon in the passing offense. Johnson ranked inside the top 20 in first-read target looks among receivers in 2022. Johnson has seen 140 targets each of the last three seasons under Canada. Expect Johnson to bounce back in a big way in 2023.

How To Capitalize

Startup Rankings

Johnson is going much later in the dynasty start-ups than his talent and production have shown us. Johnson is in his prime receiver years but is going as the WR35 in starts ups. He is a receiver you can wait and target as a solid WR2 or an elite flex option for your dynasty team, especially if you go the win-now approach in start-ups. Johnson is behind plenty of unproven young receivers who haven’t shown an elite season yet. Johnson is an excellent value in dynasty start-ups right now.

Trade Market

Johnson’s trade value is low, just like his start-up value. It’s a great time to buy low heading into the 2023 season. I think the concerns with Pickett have lowered Johnson’s dynasty value in leagues. Trades I’ve seen that can be good values for Johnson on the Dynasty Nerds GM 2.0:

  • Matthew Stafford for Diontae Johnson
  • 2024 3rd for Johnson
  • Treylon Burks for Diontae Johnson
  • 2023 3rd for Johnson
  • 2023 2nd, 2024 2nd & 2024 3rd

All trades mentioned above were made over the last week in dynasty leagues. Johnson can be brought at a lower value, giving you instant fantasy production. Not many times can you buy a receiver who can provide you WR2 numbers in their prime and get them at bargain prices. If I’m a contending dynasty owner, I’m throwing my 2024 2nd and 3rd, which should be the back-end pick to acquire Johnson’s services for the next few seasons.

Beyond 2023

Johnson will be 27 heading into the 2023 season. The years he has left could be less than five for a dynasty. Johnson emerged as an older prospect that has produced the last three seasons. He has two years left on his contract and will be a free agent heading into 2025. Johnson should have elite production upside for the next two seasons to be the Steeler’s WR1. The progression of Pickett will help to keep Johnson producing as a WR2 over each of the next two seasons in the dynasty.

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