The Pittsburgh Steelers had an interesting 2019 draft. Here’s why their third-round pick almost cracked a list of best players from the class.
Three years ago, if I would have asked you to look ahead to 2022 and predict which Pittsburgh Steelers player from the 2019 NFL Draft would be considered a top-15 talent from that class, everyone and their mother would have said Devin Bush.
During the pre-draft process in 2019, Bush became a rising star, and it looked like the only way that Pittsburgh was going to be able to land the athletic Michigan linebacker was in a trade-up scenario. This proved to be the case.
The Denver Broncos were reportedly interested in Bush with the 10th overall pick, but they were willing to part with the selection in order to pick up an extra second and third-round draft choice — having TE Noah Fant as their backup plan in a trade-back.
After the trade with the Broncos, the Steelers had a top 10 pick for the first time since taking Plaxico Burress in 2000. Unfortunately, the first three years of his NFL career have not gone according to plan, and an ACL tear early in the 2020 season certainly didn’t help his progress.
Three years later, NFL.com analysts Bucky Brooks comprised a list of the top 15 players from the 2019 draft class. While Bush was (unsurprisingly) nowhere to be found, the Steelers had a representative that nearly cracked the list of this talented draft class.
Former third-round wide receiver, Diontae Johnson, was listed with some players who ‘just missed’ the top-15. Nine others joined him, including WR Marquise Brown and former 3rd overall pick, DT Quinnen Williams.
The 2019 draft class was flooded with wide receivers who proved to be much better than most anticipated. Deebo Samuel (3rd), A.J. Brown (5th), DK Metcalf (7th), and Terry McLaurin (11th) each made Brooks’ top-15 list. His final spot on the list was given to Raiders WR Hunter Renfrow — which is sure to raise some controversy.
Steelers had one of the biggest steals of the 2019 draft
Regardless of where you had him slated among the impressive talent from the 2019 draft class, there’s no question that the Steelers got tremendous value out of Diontae Johnson. In fact, I would go as far as to say that he was one of the steals of the entire draft.
It’s remarkably rare that you find a receiver in the third round who you can pepper with targets thanks to his ability to win from the ‘X’ position. With an innate ability to create separation and some slippery moves after the catch, Johnson has proven to be a valuable asset to this Steelers team. In 2021, he earned 107 catches, 1,161 receiving yards, and 8 touchdowns, via Pro Football Reference.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Johnson, however. Fans remember all too well the immense struggles he had during the 2020 season. After showing promise as a rookie, Johnson was widely inconsistent in his second season and he led the NFL in dropped passes, according to Pro Football Reference.
Fortunately, he was able to turn things around to become a player who is now considered to be one of the best talents from the 2019 NFL Draft class. Entering the final season of his rookie deal, Johnson is seeking a lofty new contract extension that will pay him as one of the top receivers in the NFL.
Since Antonio Brown forced his way out the door, the Steelers have been looking for a player who could take his place. Johnson obviously isn’t the same talent, but he’s not a bad consolation prize.
While I haven’t given up on him completely, it looks like Devin Bush is going to be a pretty bad pick by the Steelers. Fortunately, striking gold on Diontae Johnson in the third round of the 2019 draft helps soften the blow of their wasted top-10 pick.