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Player Spotlight: Steve Johnson

A detailed look at Steve Johnson's fantasy prospects for 2013

 

Setting the Stage

Steve Johnson only played two years of high school football in Fairfield, California as his school didn’t field a team until his junior season. He earned All-State as a senior and also played two years of basketball. Even though ranked as the 80th best wide receiver out of high school, Johnson attended Chabot College in California for two years and played well, particularly in his second season catching 73 passes for 1,060 yards and scoring 12 TDs in just ten games. After leaving junior college, he decided to attend Kentucky. Johnson has had some struggles along the way. After being praised by his junior college coach for being a great worker, he had limited opportunity his first season at Kentucky for having a poor work ethic.  However, he turned the corner for his senior year and caught 61 passes for 1,052 yards and 13 TDs in his junior season. Even more than that, he frequently came up big for his team in really big spots, catching three game-winning TDs.

He failed to distinguish himself at the NFL Combine. He displayed middle of the road numbers in most categories. He had some height at 6-ft and 1 inch, but weighed only 210 pounds and ran a 4.58 40-yard dash. He simply failed to separate himself from most wide receivers there. He was considered by most a depth addition at best and likely destined to be a special team player. He was drafted in the seventh round by the Buffalo Bills. He was a non-factor for the Bills in his first two seasons, but really played well in this third season and has been their most productive wide receiver over the past three seasons. He signed a five-year $36.25 Million contract with the Bills in 2012, with $18.05 Million guaranteed. He is currently signed through the 2016 season.

A review of his career stats provided below displays his minimal production in his first two seasons, but also his consistent numbers the next three, primarily based on his higher number of targets for the team.

Year Team Gms Rushes Yards ypc TDs Targets Catches Yards ypc TDs F Pts
2008 Buffalo 10 1 6 6.0 0 14 10 102 10.2 2 23
2009 Buffalo 5 0 0 0.0 0 3 2 10 5.0 0 1
2010 Buffalo 16 0 0 0.0 0 142 82 1,073 13.1 10 167
2011 Buffalo 16 0 0 0.0 0 134 76 1,004 13.2 7 142
2012 Buffalo 16 0 0 0.0 0 148 79 1,046 13.2 6 141
Total Buffalo 63 1 6 60. 0 441 249 3,235 13.0 25 474

Although Johnson has been limited this year in early workouts by a back injury, he is expected to be ready this month and has not missed a game over the past three seasons.

Looking Forward to 2013

Buffalo is an offense in transition. Ryan Fitzpatrick, their starting quarterback for the past four years has been released. They have a new head coach, Doug Marrone who coached last year in college for Syracuse. Marrone brought along Nathaniel Hackett, also from Syracuse as the Bill’s offensive coordinator. They added Kevin Kolb at quarterback after he was released by Arizona and then surprised many by drafting E J Manuel in first round. It was not surprising that the team drafted a quarterback, but Manuel was the surprise.  The team also drafted two rookie wide receivers and added another one as an undrafted free agent.

The Bills are expected to run a high-tempo offense which should give all of their offensive players more opportunity for production with the increased number of plays. That is with the assumption that they can convert first downs and keep their offense on the field.

Positives

  • Johnson should continue to be the top targeted receiver on the team
  • He has had three consecutive seasons of consistent production ranking as WR10, WR21, and WR20
  • Johnson has always played well in big spots and has scored 23 TDs for the Bills over the past three seasons, even as the team has not been that productive overall

Negatives

  • Current back issues are keeping him off the field in the off-season workouts
  • New coaching staff with new offensive system negates some of his previous experience in Buffalo
  • New starting inexperienced quarterback, potentially a rookie could struggle early in the season

Projections:

  Gms Receptions Yards ypc TDs
David Dodds 16 73 949 13.0 6
Bob Henry 15 74 970 13.1 5
Jason Wood 16 75 1,020 13.6 6
Maurile Tremblay 16 74 985 13.3 6
Stephen Holloway 16 79 1,020 13.0 8

Final thoughts

Johnson’s ADP is currently listed as WR29 and 73 overall. If he can maintain his production from the previous three seasons, he will have nice value. Even playing with a new quarterback in a new offensive system, but should be frequently targeted since he is by far the team’s most experienced wide receiver. His targets could even increase with the high-tempo offense if the team can has success. 

Other Viewpoints

msommer from the Spotlight Thread:  

The Bills have been pathetic the past three years. In that time Stevie has delivered between 76 and 82 receptions and just over 1000 yards - with a blocking TE as primary competition for targets, a QB that now is back to being what he should be (backup), but on the plus side a solid line and good (Jackson) to electric (Spiller) RB to keep things honest.  Enter a new coach with a new system, a cast-off QB (who might be scared of his own shadow) competing with an athletic rookie, several speedy options that could emerge at WR2, an interesting pass catching rookie TE, and a shift in who will carry the load at RB (Spiller as opposed to RBBC). Leaving was the best passblocking guard on the line and his back up - with only internal replacements.  Lots of uncertainty. On the other hand Stevie is steady if not styling. I'd say he can get 80 receptions for 1100 yards and 6 TDs this year as he benefits from not being the sole threat to be neutralized in the passing game

FF Today Player Profile:

The knock on Johnson is that he isn't a true No. 1 wide receiver. While that may be the case, he is remarkably consistent, catching between 76 and 82 balls for 1,004 to 1,073 yards and six to ten touchdowns over the last three years while averaging 13.1, 13.2 and 13.2 yards per reception. The easy thing would be to project him for 80 receptions for 1,050 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, and who could quibble with that? However, the wrinkle in that equation is the quarterback situation in Buffalo, where Kevin Kolb will likely start the season before giving way to rookie first-round pick E.J. Manuel at some point. While Johnson will remain the focal point of the Bills passing attack in 2013, look for his production to dip slightly, making him only a high-end WR3 this season.

Chase Stuart, Footballguys Senior Writer from the Spotlight Thread:

Steve Johnson was one of my undervalued players from this article: The good: Johnson gets a ton of targets on a percentage of team targets basis (he actually ranked 5th among all receivers). The bad: the Bills ranked 23rd in pass attempts despite being a bad team. But with a new HC and a new QB, I don't think that last year's pass attempts number is predictive of much this year. While Manuel could run more, the Bills also seem intent on playing with a fast pace, which means more plays. If Buffalo jumps up to 560 pass attempts, that's good news for Johnson. The other bad: Johnson's yards per target average was bad last year. But that's notoriously inconsistent from year to year, and with a new QB and better targets around him, that number should increase anyway. In other words, Johnson has the potential to now get to 1200 yards if his team throws 560 teams, he keeps the same target ratio, 160, and he sees just a slight uptick in his yards per target to 7.5.  His ADP of WR29 makes him undervalued. Unless Manuel just stinks it up or Johnson gets hurt, finishing at WR29 seems like the worst possible case scenario, and sneaking into the top 12 isn't unrealistic.


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