George Pickens is having the type of season and numbers Diontae Johnson might wish he had. The big plays. The touchdowns. The talk of the town. But one reason for Pickens’ success is Johnson’s mentorship, helping Pickens adjust and prepare for the rigors of the NFL. Speaking to reporters Friday, Pickens outlined what Johnson has meant to him.
“Really just helping me…everybody’s a grown man,” he said as tweeted by The Trib’s Chris Adamski. “Being a leader, I don’t want to say is hard, but he’s grown…as far as helping me, he’s been great at helping me.”
While Pickens has had plenty of success his first year in the league, there’s been low moments. He had an up-and-down performance against the Colts, making plays downfield but also struggling with drops and missed opportunities. He had at least two catches, one over the middle and one along the sideline, he normally comes down with but couldn’t finish the play on, leading to incompletions.
A young guy with high expectations, Pickens seemed to be frustrated along the sideline. But as he recently told Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley, Johnson was there to pick him up.
“Diontae talking, it was a coping mechanism, trying to get me back in the groove,” he told Varley.
Johnson is in the midst of his own difficult year. His numbers have bottomed out, averaging a paltry 9.0 yards per reception, while often playing third-fiddle in the offense behind Pickens and TE Pat Freiermuth. Johnson has yet to find the end zone this year after making regular stops there in 2020 and 2021. He’s begun to press, try to do too much, and his frustration is evident.
But to his credit, Johnson has also stepped up as a leader in that receiver room. Though he’s just 26 years old, he’s a veteran of the group and its longest-tenured receiver. Heck, he’s been there longer than his positional coach Frisman Jackson in his first year on the job. His value to the team is beyond the box score and he certainly should be praised for mentoring young players like Pickens. Keeping spirits high during tough times and helping guys like him understand how to prepare, how to watch film, and how to work. Johnson has one of the strongest work ethics on the team and hopefully that’s rubbed off on Pickens and the rest of the Steelers’ room.