I think it’s fair to say that the reviews on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class are mixed. There are definitely those who believe the team gave up too much—a 2019 second-round pick and their third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft—to trade up 10 spots in the first round for inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Their next pick did not come until the start of the third round, and when it did, there was many a groan when the name rolling across the screen was Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who many amateur online scouts felt was more of a late-round pick.
Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, however, expressed high confidence that there is no way Johnson would have made it to the team’s second third-round pick as Bruce Arians, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cursed him out after Pittsburgh took him, because he was going to be their selection a few picks later.
That’s generally not how the Steelers approach their draft board, however. What they concern themselves with is if they are drafting players where they are comfortable drafting them based on their own evaluations. And according to Gerry Dulac, they were probably very pleased with where they got Johnson, because they reportedly had a first-round grade on him.
Even though he was a pre-draft visitor, Johnson is probably not a player that a ton of people did a heavy amount of scouting on, even with the reality that he bore some certain similarities to one Antonio Brown when he came out of a MAC school as an underclassman in 2010.
Dulac seemingly casually dropped this little nugget about the Steelers having a first-round grade on Johnson, but it’s interesting and worth noting that only two wide receivers were even taken in the first round this year, those being Marquise Brown 25th overall and then N’Keal Harry with the 32nd pick. There was a run at wide receiver at the end of the second round, and Johnson was essentially a continuation of that at the top of the first with the Steelers’ first selection since 10th overall.
If the team did indeed have a first-round grade on Johnson, then it marks the second year in which they were able to acquire a player in the third round that they believed has first-round talent. In 2018, they traded up a few spots toward the front half of the third round to select quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom they graded in the same tier as the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first round.
If the Toledo product actually plays up to a first-round talent, that will be a huge break for the Steelers, who got meager compensation in return for Antonio Brown in trade. Yet it would be fitting to get a star from a pick acquired from his trade. After all, they got Brown from a pick they acquired indirectly from trading Santonio Holmes—who of course announced the Johnson selection on Friday, because how else can this offseason have gone?