In a trade involving players and picks, wide receiver Diontae Johnson was acquired by the Panthers along with a seventh-round pick in exchange for cornerback Donte Jackson and a sixth-round pick heading back to the Steelers.

It's been an interesting few years for the embattled receiver. In 2021, Ben Roethlisberger's last NFL season, Johnson hogged 169 targets in Pittsburgh (10.6 per game) and caught 107 passes for 1,161 yards and eight scores, good enough for a 16.7 PPR average. Without Roethlisberger in 2022, Johnson still had a ton of targets with 147 (8.6 per game) but somehow didn't score a touchdown all season and ended with an ugly 10.6 PPR points per game.

And then last season Johnson earned 87 targets in 13 games (6.7 per) and posted four-year lows in catches (51) and yards (717) with 11.8 PPR points per game -- at least that wasn't a four-year low. 

The hope is that Johnson finds a path back to triple-digit targets with the Panthers, a team in desperate need of playmakers to help out second-year quarterback Bryce Young. There's a pretty good shot of it happening.

Carolina's new head coach and offensive play caller is Dave Canales, the guy behind Baker Mayfield's bounce-back in 2023 and the coach who helped aid Geno Smith's resurgence in 2022. Two Buccaneers -- Mike Evans and Chris Godwin -- each had 130-plus targets, 79-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards last season. Two Seahawks -- DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett -- each had 117 targets, 84-plus catches and 1,000-plus yards each two seasons ago. If there's one thing we can give Canales credit for, it's for designing a scheme that helps his receivers get open.

Johnson's competition for targets from Young in Carolina is headlined by 34-year-old Adam Thielen, the crafty route-runner who won over Fantasy managers for half of last season because he was the only guy who routinely got open. A young receiver like Jonathan Mingo could also compete for work, but he hasn't shown much. 

What seems likely is for Thielen to handle the slot duties far more often than Johnson. Johnson was once a slot-heavy receiver, but that's a spot Thielen can still win at whereas Johnson can work across the formation. Last year Johnson played out wide on 78.8% of his snaps.

Young threw just four touchdowns to his outside receivers last year, completing 64% of his 175 attempts for 7.0 yards per attempt. Predictably, none of these numbers compared favorably to other quarterbacks across the league; Kenny Pickett wasn't as bad on a per-pass basis. And if you didn't like that then you'll dislike that Young was awful on throws of 10-plus Air Yards (47.5% completion rate on throws of 10-19 Air Yards, 22.4% on throws of 20-plus Air Yards). I'm not sure how much this matters because Young will play in a new system with a new play caller this year, but it's not good.

If there's a fit, it's that Johnson's most productive route with the Steelers last year was the out route -- he caught 69% of his targets for 214 yards and two touchdowns. Low numbers until you remember he didn't have over 750 yards with five touchdowns. Young's most successful route last season was the out route, completing 72% of those targets for four touchdowns ... and a paltry 5.3 yards per attempt because he didn't throw that route deep too often.

I think Johnson can improve his catch and yardage totals from last year -- Canales' track record lends promise -- but he still has a lot of work to do to be a reliable No. 3 Fantasy receiver because of the quarterback. Johnson shouldn't get picked until at least Round 8 in PPR and probably Round 9-10 in non-PPR.

Somehow, this trade might make him a better Fantasy option than if he had stayed in the Steel City.

Is Pickens the perfect pick?

What this trade does is put third-year receiver George Pickens in position to be a target hog in his own right with the Steelers. He had 106 targets last season (6.2 per game) to pace Pittsburgh and finished with a 63-1140-5 stat line.

Pickens still has to prove a few things. One: That he can be counted on for an expanded route tree that makes him less predictable to cover. Two: That he can consistently break away from coverage and not turn every intermediate and deep target into a contested catch. Three: That he can be in sync with Russell Wilson just like Courtland Sutton was last year and Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf were in the years prior. Four: That Arthur Smith trust him, designs a lot of plays for him and won't be so run-heavy to the point that he takes pass attempts away from him. 

On that last point: top Falcons receiver Drake London averaged 6.9 targets per game in each of the two seasons under Smith. It's fine to assume Pickens will average a little more than that, but not a lot more. Naturally, that would change if training camp reports about him are as glowing this year as they were last year.

I might expect Pickens to start gathering steam as a third-year breakout. That's fine, but taking him before Round 5 is too costly, especially since the types of receivers you'll find in Round 4 should either have a better track record or much more upside.