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Panthers trade for Diontae Johnson

The Panthers aimed to get Bryce Young a weapon and got one in Diontae Johnson. Can Johnson help his value and the Panthers offense? @coachstevenp dives into the numbers to find out.

It’s not a free-agent signing but a trade! The Carolina Panthers traded cornerback Donte Jackson for Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson. The trade also agreed for them to swap late-round picks as well. The Panthers have been showing us that they are trying to do what they can to build around Bryce Young as a quarterback. This was their first move to give him a legit weapon in the offense. We will break down what this does for the Panthers and Steelers offenses for dynasty.

Diontae Johnson History

Diontae Johnson is on the move after spending five years with the Steelers. Johnson was a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft and quickly took over as the team’s WR1 shortly after getting on the field. He had his best season in 2021, with 1100 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Johnson was a slight product of opportunity because he had three of five seasons with 140 targets. He also has five or more touchdowns in four of five seasons. Johnson has thrived on being a fantastic route runner who can separate from defenders. Johnson is getting out of a situation that looks like a run-first offense to a team that desperately needs a WR1 in their offense.

In 2023, Johnson had his worst season since his rookie year. Granted, he missed four games due to a hamstring injury. You could tell throughout the season that Johnson was just not himself. If we did project him out for 17 games last year, he likely would have had 114 targets, 938 yards, and seven touchdowns. He had to deal with inadequate quarterback play last year, especially after he returned from injury. In the final nine games, he was targeted 52 times but only caught 28 balls. Over the last two years, his catch rate has been under 60%, which isn’t great. Johnson has had an issue with drops over his career, with 35 in five seasons. Last year, he was a bit better with only three, but he was in the top 5 in drops between 2020 and 2022.

Panthers Offense

Diontae Johnson is joining a new-look Panthers offense, now run by Dave Canales. Canales has been a rising coach for the last two years and is making his mark on his quarterback wherever he is. There has been promise for Bryce Young to improve in year two, but it was clear there was a need at wide receiver after a terrible 2023 season. Last season, 33-year-old Adam Thielen led this team in every receiver stat you can think of. Unfortunately, Thielen would regress down the stretch for fantasy with his production despite the high volume. The team also had DJ Chark and rookie Jonathan Mingo, who were inconsistent and struggled for most of the season.

One thing these receivers were unable to do was to create any separation against their defenders. Last year, Thielen ranked 49th in target separation as their WR1. It didn’t get better with Chark and Mingo, who ranked 86th and 67th in separation. Young is a quarterback who thrives on accuracy and leads his throws to a receiver who can get to the open space. Johnson has shown the ability to be an elite route runner, creating separation among his defenders. During Johnson’s elite 2021 seasons, he was ranked 10th in target separation.

Johnson should come in immediately to be the WR1 for this Panthers team. He fits the mold for a WR1 role in this offense and should return to his high target volume with the Panthers. While I like Johnson’s receiving upside, there are concerns with him as a Panther. For one, Johnson has a drop problem, which is something to consider. There is still time for the Panthers to make a splash at receiver, especially with the draft or trade, which could prevent Johnson from receiving a high volume. Lastly, Bryce Young’s development is still unknown, and can he leap to help Johnson for fantasy? In dynasty, I’d look to sell high on the soon-to-be 28-year-old receiver, who may only be a one-year rental of elite production, which is not promised to us. You probably could get a few second-round picks for Johnson following this trade. Johnson is still likely a borderline WR2 in 2024 for fantasy.

The Panthers trading for Johnson is a big move, but Young needs more than one player to help revamp this receiver group. I’m still low on Young, but seeing the Panthers give him a weapon for the offense is encouraging. Young is a winner in this trade. Despite a good year, Adam Thielen’s dynasty value was already low following the season. I do not expect much, but he could be a flex option during bye weeks since he isn’t the WR1 target. I’m not in the market to buy Theilen. If you have him, you’re stuck with him until the season. Jonathan Mingo is interesting if he can develop heading into year two. I’d love to see the YAC ability he showed off in college in year two. If you believe in the talent, he could be a solid buy low for a late third-round pick.

Steelers Offense

For the Steelers, losing Johnson is a big deal as he has had the most targets on the team over the last five years. While it is a big deal, the Steelers know how to draft receivers, and they control the 20th pick of the draft. You can be sure to know there will be a discussion if there is a receiver they like for the offense. There will be a replacement coming to that Steelers offense one way or the other. The Steelers have drafted Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes, Emmanuel Sanders, Plaxico Burress, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and George Pickens over the last 20 years. The Steelers will find their next receiver in this deep draft class. To read more about the offense, look at my Russell Wilson signs with Pittsburgh article

George Pickens is a clear winner for this trade since he dominated last year with Johnston out of the lineup. In four games without Johnson, Pickens had 33 targets, 357 receiving yards, and two touchdowns. He was being used as a WR1 for this team. Pickens should be on the rise despite his up-and-down fantasy performances from last year. It will be encouraging to see if he can be more consistent without Johnson. Pat Freiermuth is a sleeper winner for this trade as well. We don’t have much history of Freiermuth without Johnson on the field. He also got injured a few games later when Johnson was out of the lineup. Freiermuth could end up being second on the team in targets for an offense that does favor the tight ends. Pickens may be hard to buy now, but Freiermuth is a good tight end to buy. Of course, this could change if the Steelers go receiver early, but we’ll have to wait and see.

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