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Diontae Johnson looked disinterested during the second half of the 2023 season and has been a trade candidate all offseason. On Tuesday, the Steelers finally made their move, sending him to Carolina along with a seventh-round pick for Donte Jackson and a sixth-rounder. Johnson will immediately assume the WR1 spot for the Panthers, who desperately need playmakers so they can get a good look at Bryce Young. Meanwhile, George Pickens will now step into the undisputed WR1 role for the new-look Steelers offense.

 

DIONTAE JOHNSON

Old ranking: 93rd overall on Underdog

New ranking: 69th overall on Underdog

  • Adam Thielen had a 23.4% seasonal target share last year at 33 years old. Let that sink in. The Panthers may not be done adding WR help considering how poorly Jonathan Mingo played as a rookie (plus Thielen will be 34 come Week 1 and D.J. Chark is a free agent), but Johnson is going to get peppered with targets regardless. He’s been one of the best target earners in the league over the past few years, including a robust 0.24 targets-per-route-run mark in 2023. Johnson is a better underneath option than the aging Thielen, and he should step in right away as the Panthers’ WR1, at least based on who they currently have.
  • The problem is going to be efficiency. Johnson’s 8.2 yards per target last year was his best single-season mark, but he averages just 6.8 yards per look for his career. Pair that with Young’s putrid 5.5 yards per attempt mark as a rookie, and you’ve got a recipe for one of the least efficient per-target WRs in football. Unless Young takes a massive step forward, the Panthers aren’t going to score a lot of TDs either, so Johnson just may start another TD-less streak with his new team. In 2022, Johnson had 147 targets for 882 yards and zero TDs. It’s unreasonable to project something that extreme, but we are looking at potentially league-worst efficiency here.

 

GEORGE PICKENS

Old ranking: 61st overall on Underdog

New ranking: 56th overall on Underdog

  • We knew Diontae had a good probability of being moved, so we don’t want to double-count this for Pickens. Still, this is indisputably positive for the third-year pro, who now has the WR1 gig all to himself under new QB Russell Wilson. After operating almost exclusively as a vertical threat as a rookie, Pickens displayed more versatility in Year 2, finishing with 0.21 targets and 2.14 yards per route run to go along with a fantastic 21.5% target share. Pittsburgh will add more WRs since Calvin Austin is currently their WR2 and Miles Boykin is the WR3, but losing an elite target earner in Johnson as competition means more looks for Pickens. John Daigle tweeted about how spectacular Pickens was in 2023 with Johnson out:

 

 

OTHER PANTHERS WRS

  • Thielen is 34 years old. We said the same thing last year and he proved everyone wrong, especially in the first half of the year, but it’s difficult to get excited about his upside now that he isn’t the WR1. Mingo was horrifically inefficient with 4.9 yards per target and now falls to WR3 on the depth chart with potentially more receiver help on the way. Neither player is particularly exciting for fantasy despite there currently being targets available behind Johnson.