We now have a clearer timeline on Pittsburgh Steelers WR Diontae Johnson’s “multiple week” absence, with Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporting that Johnson will miss up to four weeks with his hamstring injury.
It’s a better timeline than Cameron Heyward, who is undergoing groin surgery and will miss up to eight weeks, but it’s still not great news for Pittsburgh’s offense and wide receiver room. Johnson is the team’s No. 1 wide receiver and losing him is going to be tough on QB Kenny Pickett.
The onus is now on second-year WR George Pickens to show he’s capable of being the player that Ryan Clark called more talented than Justin Jefferson. More expectations will also now fall on the speedy Calvin Austin III and veteran slot receiver Allen Robinson II.
If Johnson misses all four weeks, he’ll be out for games against the Cleveland Browns, Las Vegas Raiders, Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens. In an ideal scenario, Johnson recovers quicker than expected and can make it back ahead of Pittsburgh’s divisional matchup with the Ravens, but if he does miss all four games he’ll also have the Week 6 bye to recover. That would mean his return game would take place on Oct. 22 against the Los Angeles Rams.
Honestly, it’s a manageable slate for the Steelers, even without Johnson. But losing one of the better receivers in football is going to hurt any team, especially one that struggled so mightily on offense during its 30-7 loss on Sunday. I’d expect Austin to shift to Johnson’s role on the outside, with Robinson staying in the slot and Pickens remaining outside.
Robinson had five grabs for 64 yards on Sunday, while Austin had six receptions for 37 yards. Pickens was the least productive out of that trio, with five receptions for 36 yards, but I’d expect that to change going forward.
To add depth in the wake of Johnson’s injury, the Steelers signed WR Jacob Copeland to the practice squad yesterday. Expect WR Gunner Olszewski to also now get a helmet on gamedays.