Diontae Johnson entered 2017 with 14 career catches. He left 2017 with 13 touchdown catches.
Johnson, a clear First Team All-MAC selection, stepped up around midseason to become one of the nation’s top receivers last year. The 5’11” Florida native compiled 1,278 receiving yards to rank eighth in the country. As a reliable deep threat on a high-scoring offense, Johnson tied several other talented athletes including Biletnikoff Award winner James Washington for fourth for touchdown receptions.
Johnson recorded six games of 100 or more receiving yards last year, but his true breakout came around midseason — specifically on the signature spectacle that is midweek MACtion. In the three outings from October 26 to November 8, Johnson hauled in 23 passes for 480 yards (160 per game), complemented with three scores.
During this stretch, he averaged over 20 yards per catch, thriving in his role as Toledo’s primary deep threat. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson tied two other receivers for the most 20+ yard touchdown receptions out of all 2019 NFL Draft eligible receivers during the season. Pro Football Focus also cites Johnson’s strongest routes are the comeback and crossing patterns, where quarterback Logan Woodside connected with him most efficiently.
Where Toledo WR Diontae Johnson won last year pic.twitter.com/tfN4CcMIKB— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 11, 2018
Johnson played a massive role in Toledo’s dominant offense last year, especially after the Rockets lost senior receiver Cody Thompson to a leg injury during a Week 6 battle with Eastern Michigan. Thompson will return to the lineup once Toledo hosts VMI of the FCS in the opener on September 1. Also, Johnson’s similarly-named counterpart, Jon’Vea Johnson, returns too, causing Toledo to boast one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation.
There will be a new quarterback — either Mitch Guadagni or Eli Peters — connecting with Johnson this fall. Despite losing a program legend like Woodside, Johnson’s numbers should continue to impress, as the receiver became known for his sharp pair of hands and gifted speed last year. He can create eye-opening highlights on his own, as shown below:
89-yard deep ball to Diontae Johnson! pic.twitter.com/FMk85LmjPF— Toledo Football (@ToledoFB) November 2, 2017
Johnson isn’t limited to playing wide receiver. On the 89-yard touchdown above, Johnson demonstrates his evasiveness in the open field. This quality allows him to be a successful return specialist. He scored two touchdowns (one kick, one punt) on special teams last year, including this 87-yard beauty against Ball State.
The junior was a member of the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list and should continue to shine in Toledo’s pass-happy offense in 2018. He is among the returning veterans forced to marinate in an ugly Dollar General Bowl loss all offseason long. With Jason Candle still at the helm in the Glass City, the Rockets should have no problem shedding off the memories and cruising by the VMI Cadets in the opener. And then, we’ll get to witness the start of the junior season for, more than likely, a future NFL receiver.
With his incredible knack for creating touchdowns on deep balls and weaving through defenders like traffic cones on special teams, his play style is very reminiscent of the Buccaneers’ DeSean Jackson and the Seahawks’ Tyler Lockett. He may have an important decision to ponder this coming spring, but until then, take note of how opposing secondaries handle Johnson and the rest of the Toledo wideouts.