Getting there eventually

It didn't happen immediately for Diontae Johnson, but by season's end there was no disputing the third-round wide receiver's contributions or potential.

"I showed I can make plays consistently and contribute on the special teams, as well," Johnson assessed.

The same could be said for fourth-round running back Benny Snell, Jr.

And quarterback Devlin "Duck" Hodges wasn't even on the 53-man roster when the season started.

But by season's end the former tryout camp candidate had inspired a reaction throughout Steeler Nation that became recognized as "Duck-mania."

"It was crazy, honestly something that I never saw coming," Hodges acknowledged. "Seeing all the duck stuff in the stands and what not, just wild."

Rookie seasons sometimes play out that way.

They did for the most prominent rookie contributors on offense in 2019.

Johnson caught three passes for 25 yards in the Steelers' regular season-opening, 33-3 loss on Sept. 8 at New England, a humble enough beginning.

But by season's end he had 59 receptions, the second-highest total for a rookie in Steelers' history. Johnson wound up gaining 680 yards through the air and averaging 11.5 yards per catch on his team-leading 59 catches, which included a team-leading five touchdown receptions.

He also ended up leading the NFL in punt return average. His 20 returns for 248 yards (12.4 per attempt) included an 85-yard return for a touchdown on Dec. 8 at Arizona.

Snell didn't play an offensive snap at New England.

But by season's end he'd carried 108 times for 426 yards (a 3.9 average) and a pair of touchdowns, and caught three passes for 23 yards. Snell finished second among Steelers to James Conner's 116 attempts, 464 rushing yards and four rushing TDs.

Snell also contributed on special teams throughout the season (he played on the kickoff, kickoff return, punt and punt return teams during the season-ending, 28-10 loss on Dec. 29 at Baltimore), the vehicle through which he first gained head coach Mike Tomlin's attention and trust.

For Johnson and Snell, the arrow is pointed up.

Both impressed the offensive staff in terms of production and upside.

Hodges didn't quite come out of nowhere, but when he arrived from Samford of the FCS for rookie tryout camp there were no expectations beyond participating for three days.

He ended up starting six games and relieving in three.

The Steelers had a 3-3 record in games Hodges started and went 1-2 in games in which he replaced Mason Rudolph (Hodges did both in a 16-10 loss to the Jets on Dec. 22 in East Rutherford, N.J.).

Hodges emerged having averaged a team-leading 6.6 yards per passing attempt after having completed a team-leading 62.5 percent of his passes (100 of 160), for 1,063 yards, with five touchdowns, eight interceptions and a passer rating of 71.4.

Hodges also carried 21 times for 68 yards.

It was enough, all things considered, to have earned some well-deserved R&R.

"The first thing I'll do, probably, definitely duck hunt for a couple of days," Hodges said at season's end.

That much, in retrospect, everyone should have seen coming.