Diontae Johnson, the Steelers‘ All-Pro special teams standout, recently posted a photo of himself lying in a hospital bed via his Instagram account. On Friday, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Johnson underwent sports hernia surgery, an injury that has typically has a recovery timetable of 4-6 weeks.
Johnson, the Steelers’ third-round pick in the 2019 draft, was an 85-yard return for a score during Pittsburgh’s Week 14 win over the Cardinals. Johnson became the first Steelers’ player to return a punt for a score since Antonio Brown back in 2015. Ironically, Johnson was selected using the third-round pick the Steelers acquired from the Raiders in exchange for Brown last offseason.this season after leading the league with an average of 12.4 yards per punt return. He also had the longest punt return of the 2019 season,
As a rookie, Johnson led the Steelers with 59 catches and five touchdown receptions. He also finished second to James Washington with 680 receiving yards. After a slow start, Johnson started to show flashes of his ability in Week 3, catching his first career touchdown pass in Pittsburgh’s road loss to the 49ers. Johnson would catch another touchdown the following week against Cincinnati while catching all six of his targets for 77 yards in the Steelers’ first victory of the season. He recorded a season-high 84 receiving yards and a touchdown in Pittsburgh’s Week 7 win over the Dolphins. And along with his punt return for a score against the Cardinals, Johnson also caught a touchdown and a key third-down pass to help the Steelers win their eighth and final game of the 2019 season.
“They drafted me for a reason,” Johnson said following his breakout game against the Cardinals, via Kevin Gorman of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Review. “Once my opportunity got called, I took advantage of it. I’m still taking advantage of it, each day and proving that on Sunday.
“I didn’t really think I would play that much. I got my opportunity, and I’m doing what I’ve got to do. I see myself doing big things here. I just want to help the team out and win games and win a Super Bowl here.”
Johnson, who led all rookie receivers in receptions last season, was tabbed as the Mid-American Conference Special Teams Player of the Year in 2018, as he averaged 25.8 yards per kickoff return and 18.5 yards per punt return while scoring two special teams touchdowns. The previous season, Johnson’s 74 receptions, 1,278 yards, and 13 touchdowns helped the Rockets capture their first conference championship since 2004.
In 2020, Johnson will look to help the Steelers improve a passing attack that finished 31st in the league last season. That number should vastly improve with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, who missed all but six quarters last season after sustaining a right elbow injury that required surgery. Roethlisberger, who led the NFL with 5,129 passing yards in 2018, is hoping to begin throwing in some capacity later this month.