The most valuable advice often comes from the most likely places. When it’s career advice from someone with accolades in your field, it’s priceless. In this case, it’s receiver to receiver. During the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ December 23 practice, Diontae Johnson soaked up knowledge from Dallas Cowboys legend and three-time Super Bowl champion Michael Irvin.
93.7 The Fan’s Jeff Hathhorn caught the moment on video and posted it to Twitter.
Judging by the gestures, Irvin (with former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci standing by) appears to be coaching Johnson on securing the catch and cutting upfield (instead of downfield, infuriating Steelers fans).
The Hall of Famer-turned-analyst is part of NFL Network’s “GameDay Morning” crew who were in Pittsburgh to watch practice and conduct interviews in preparation for the show.
Johnson, sidelined from practice with turf toe, spoke to Steelers press about the interaction.
“My first [time] meeting him,” Johnson said in a December 22 press conference. “A great encounter. A great person. Just give me a few tips on what to do like come back to the ball on like a curl route or if I’m running a slant or something like that. Just soaking it all up from a Hall of Famer. Just enjoying the moment, try to have more tools in your toolbox.”
Elite Route Running of Diontae Johnson
By the time Irvin had hung up his cleats, Johnson was still in diapers with no idea he even wanted to make football a living. But that certainly didn’t keep him from studying Irvin’s work as the sport became his passion. Who better to study than an All-Pro Hall of Famer who has three Super Bowl rings to his name?
Their brief time together was surreal for the fourth-year receiver.
“You know, a lot of people don’t implement that stuff in their game today,” Johnson said, according to AllSteelers. “Just being able to talk to him. I’ll never forget that moment.”
One area where Johnson needs little help is route running. As one of the top route-runners in the NFL, he’s all over the field and has mastered an elite route tree.
Diontae Johnson Numbers
In 2021, Johnson ranked second in targets and led the Steelers in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Of course, that was with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. Catching passes from Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett paints a vastly different picture.
According to ESPN analytics, Johnson ranks third in getting open, yet has the second-lowest targets (123) of his career and zero touchdowns. With a 5.5 target average per game, he’s on pace to finish the 2022 season with 92 receptions, 15 shy of his career-high of 107 last year. His estimated total yards (904) will be the lowest since his rookie season (680).
Johnson was a perfect 10-for-10 versus the Carolina Panthers. If he can keep that momentum up versus the Las Vegas Raiders in negative temperatures and battling turf toe, it’ll be amazing.
The Steelers gifted Johnson a two-year contract extension in the offseason. The extension begins in 2023 and, according to Over the Cap, is worth $36.7 million ($19 million guaranteed).