Mason Rudolph and Minkah Fitzpatrick won't be the only major changes to Pittsburgh's starting lineup when the Steelers take on the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday. On Sunday, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that Pittsburgh receiver and Donte Moncrief will not only not start, he will also be inactive for Sunday's game. Moncrief, acquired via free agency back in March, has five drops through two games, including one that led to Rudolph's first regular season interception in Pittsburgh's Week 2 loss to Seattle. Moncrief had been playing through a dislocated finger that he sustained during training camp.
Garafolo's report comes two days after Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver Diontae Johnson confirmed reports that he would be replacing Moncrief in the starting lineup. Johnson, the 66th overall pick in this year's draft, caught four passes for 42 yards in Pittsburgh's first two games.
Johnson was selected by the Steelers using one of their two draft picks acquired from the Raiders in the trade that sent Antonio Brown to Oakland. Johnson and Rudolph, Pittsburgh's new starting quarterback following Ben Roethlisberger's season-ending injury, are both former third-round picks selected using draft picks acquired from Oakland via trade.
Johnson's promotion comes three years after he was close to ending his football career altogether. After showing promise as a college freshman at the University of Toledo, Johnson missed his entire sophomore season as he had to retake the ACT. He also underwent surgery on his injured foot. Time seemed to stand still for Johnson, who was at a crossroads in both his personal as well as his professional life.
"My sophomore year was the roughest point of my college career," Johnson recently told Steelers.com's Missi Matthews. "I had to sit out that year, re-take the ACT. I also had surgery on my foot as well. Couldn't do nothing with the team. I was just lonely during that time; just felt l like I wasn't a part of the team. There were times I wanted to just go home and give up. But my coaches and teammates being there for me, that got me through everything, and I matured throughout that whole process. That year when I came back, I just felt different as a person."
Johnson was also a different player after returning to the Rockets' football team in the summer of 2017. That year, he led the team with 74 receptions for 1,278 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns while helping the Rockets capture their first Mid-American Conference title since 2004. His two touchdowns and 118 yards receiving helped Toledo defeat Akron in that year's MAC Championship Game. Johnson enjoyed another productive seasoning 2018, catching eight touchdown passes while winning the conference's Special Teams Player of the Year award.
Despite the successful finish to his college career, Johnson watched as nine other receivers were taken before him in the 2019 NFL Draft. But after watching the first 65 picks in the draft and come and go, Pittsburgh, the team that Johnson hit it off with during his predraft meetings, made him their second selection in the draft behind first-round pick, former Michigan linebacker Devin Bush. Former Pittsburgh receivers coach Darryl Drake, who suddenly passed away during training camp after experiencing chest pains the night before his death, said he basically "fell in love" with Johnson during their predraft meeting.
Johnson, after catching his first NFL touchdown pass during the preseason, paid homage to Drake.
"That touchdown was for coach Drake," Johnson said, per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Everything he coached me to do, I did. I made that touchdown for him. Every touchdown I score this year will be for him."
Johnson will get a chance to make his former coach proud on Sunday, as the Steelers look to get their first win against a 49ers team that has yet to lose.