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Spotlight: Chad Johnson

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 15th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Chad Ochocinco must not believe in karma. If he did, he should be VERY worried that a grim fate is going to befall him sometime in the future - as an offset to the unbelievably good fortune he enjoyed this NFL offseason. At a time when many, myself included, had all but given up on his ability to return to Pro Bowl form, Ochocinco gets traded from the perennially pathetic Cincinnati Bengals to the omnipotent New England Patriots. This is the NFL equivalent of pulling your beaten up El Dorado into the parking garage, and being handed the keys to a Bentley on the way out.

Let's examine the ways Ochocinco's situation has improved due to the trade:

  • Tom Brady instead of the combination of Andy Dalton & Bruce Gradkowski
  • Bill Belichick instead of Marvin Lewis
  • Super Bowl contention vs. the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes

All kidding aside, the Patriots acquisition of Chad Ochocinco dramatically alters his trajectory. I was prepared to give up on Chad after years of defending his virtues. A few years ago, Ochocinco's antics were annoying to some, but it never got in the way of his focus. He was known to be a voracious film room student, always practiced hard, and delivered even against the best defensive backs. But years of losing, with no sign of improvement, began to change all of that. Reality shows and parlor tricks began taking precedent over offseason training with teammates. Now, instead of trying to outrun a cheetah on Spike Network, Chad will be trying to reward the faith Bill Belichick put in him this offseason.

The Belichick/Ochocinco Bond
When Ochocinco was traded to the Pats, I was stunned to learn of how much Belichick likes Chad, both personally and as a player. The NFL Network produced a special, which chronicled all of the mutual admiration between the two over the years. There were many instances where Belichick was filmed seeking out Ochocinco before games when the teams played one another and joking around with him. Yes, Bill Belichick was joking around with an opposing player. Long story short, this isn't simply a case of Belichick trying to buy low and hoping for a winning lottery ticket - this is more than that. This is a guy Belichick believes can be one of the best at his position.

Defining His Role
The Patriots are probably the hardest team in the NFL to forecast. Year after year the Patriots flip the script on prognosticators. One year it's Randy Moss going vertical for 23 touchdowns. Another year it's a power rushing attack and a short, coordinated passing attack led by Wes Welker and his 100+ grabs. Last year it was the use of not one, but two uber productive rookie tight ends. The only constant in New England is change.

WR Targets (2002-2010)

Year WR Targets
2002 373
2003 288
2004 293
2005 347
2006 267
2007 429
2008 356
2009 421
2010 284

With that in mind, it's hard to forecast targets with any degree of confidence.

  • Wes Welker is now more than a year removed from his knee surgery, and looks ready to reprise the 100-110-catch role he played from 2007-2009
  • Deion Branch was Tom Brady's favorite target upon his return to New England last year, and Brady personally lobbied to have him back in the fold
  • Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez each caught 40+ passes and combined for 16 TDs. In camp this year Gronkowski has looked dominant, and Hernandez - while not as consistent - is arguably the best athlete in the receiving corps
  • Brandon Tate (18 yards per reception) flashed last season and might start for a number of NFL teams if given the chance
  • Taylor Price basically red shirted his rookie season, but has looked great this preseason
  • New England has five legitimate tailbacks on the roster (BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Sammy Morris, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley)
  • AND THEN THERE'S OCHOCINCO

My hope is that Ochocinco steps into the starting lineup and becomes the team's second most targeted option. But we're too early in the preseason to see evidence in support (or contrast) of my belief. Tom Brady is saying all the right things. The coaches are speaking well of Chad, and he's looking the part in camp. But beyond that, we're just banking on logic and instinct.

A Precedent for Redemption
Betting on Ochocinco's resurgence is hardly a long shot, based on the Patriots own history. Corey Dillon (another disgruntled Bengal) came to New England and was incredibly productive - playing a key role in the Patriots last Super Bowl title. And of course there was the case of Randy Moss. Moss had become a complete bust in Oakland, and the opportunity to play for a winner led to a multi-year run that re-established Moss on the path toward a 1st ballot Hall of Fame nod. Does that guarantee things will work out for Ochocinco in New England? No, but it gives me enough confidence to roll the dice.

Positives

  • Ochocinco goes to a team -- perhaps the only team -- where the opportunity and pedigree will shock him back into focusing 100% of his efforts on football
  • Ochocinco is only 33 years old, healthy and in tremendous physical condition. He's only a year removed from 70-catch, 1000-yard, 9 TD season. Randy Moss and Deion Branch had displayed much worse skills erosion before re-emerging in New England
  • Tom Brady is the league's best QB (or 2nd best for you Manning fans)

Negatives

  • Chad seemed to have lost his passion for the game, and was outplayed by Terrell Owens in 2010
  • The Patriots have depth up and down the roster, and won't necessarily make Ochocinco a focal point of the offense, unless his play warrants it
  • Deion Branch and Wes Welker are too talented to discount, this could be a 3-WR committee even if Ochocinco re-asserts himself

Final thoughts

There are a lot of ways this can play out. No one should be shocked if Ochocinco ends up falling flat in New England. After all, Bill Belichick traded Randy Moss in the middle of the season -- anything is possible. But I'm betting on the opposite outcome. Chad hasn't really lost his skills, and it's a lot easier to regain your passion than it is to recapture your skills. With so many other weapons at Tom Brady's disposal, I doubt Ochocinco will have the week in, week out consistency most fantasy owners want from their top 2 starters. But as your WR3? He could help you win your league, because 1,200 yards and 8-10 TDs is well within the realm of possibility. I'm counting on a more modest outcome, but even my projections put him as a solid WR3.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Go Blue said:

I've been bullish on Ochocinco all off season and I could not have asked for a better landing spot. New England's #1 WR. While some might not think this is possible, I think he puts his ego aside and just goes out and plays football. I think drafting Ochocinco at, or a round before his ADP is going to help a lot of owners win their league this year.

Raiderfan32904 said:

As a fan of Ochocinco, it's hard not to be optimistic about his new gig in New England. Perhaps all he needs regain his old status was get away from Carson Palmer. Perhaps he still has the talent to continue being the center of attention and circus ham on and off the field. But I'm not putting my money down for that bet. Ochocinco at times looked lost on the field last year, and its tough to say if his dip in production is his work habits or a byproduct of a really bad team. Will he come into Patriots camp humble with something to prove, or will he be the self-absorbed narcissist he's always been?

I love his antics, but I think he's overrated as a player, and will get his looks from Brady only when he earns them. Brady's not shy about ignoring a star WR, as he did with Randy Moss. Besides that, you have Wes Welker, and the two emerging star TE's, and there are only so many passes to go around. That alone may be enough to set Ocho fragile ego off kilter. It's always hard for the diva wideouts to accept that they just aren't that good anymore. At 33 and on the cusp of a precipitous drop in production, if he sucks it up the Patriot way, and behaves he's looking at: 62/800/5

bostonfred said:

Ocho should get two things - better play from the QB, and more time from the offensive line for plays to develop, but he'll also be involved in a lot of three WR sets with quality receiving options at TE and RB to take looks away from him, so I suspect that he'll be the primary target on fewer plays than Welker, and that he'll get more of his opportunities from finding his way open as a secondary target. That means he should get a higher catch % and a higher YPR, but fewer targets over the course of the season. I also think that Brady will embrace the Ocho antics, at least for a while, by feeding him TD passes, so I expect a few more TDs.

FF Ninja said:

With the loss of Moss and the hodge podge of WRs to see the field last year, wide receiver receptions dropped from 273 to 177. There were 227 in '08. People think Hernandez and Gronk are too good to not feed receptions to (TE rec the last 3 years: 31,43,93), but I suspect the pie will be big enough to net Chad plenty of looks. Last year the 177 receptions were divvied up primarily to Welker (86), Branch (48 - 11g), and Tate (24). I don't see why the three main threats couldn't end up with say 100, 80, 40 to total up to something like the '08 season when Welker had 111, Moss 69, Gaffney 38. And that was with Cassel.

I think there is plenty of opportunity for Chad to revive his career. People all like to think they can visibly tell that Chad has lost a step or claim that "he isn't the same player" but I'm pretty sure it is all BS, just like a guy running through gaping holes is a "special talent" and then he gets hurt and the next guy blows up. You see what you want to see. Chad has been in a bad situation for the last few years, but that doesn't mean he is now bad (or average). Chad trains hard and he'll likely be bringing his A game. Branch was on pace for over 70/1000/7 in his 11 games. I think a motivated Chad easily outdoes that production, with a solid chance at a career year.

Ministry of Pain said:

New England is one of the teams I feel has a gigantic advantage because everything runs smoothly over there to begin with but also everything returns and in fact they added to his arsenal of weapons. They are 2-3 deep at WR with Ocho, Welker, Branch, then some nice young guys making strides, 2 deep at TE, lots of RBs that can catch the ball, solid to elite OL to set up behind. It's time to start looking at this seriously. New England was 14-2 last year, went 16-0 in 2007, Brady OUT in 2008, They likely win 13-14 games again this year and they will be blowing teams out. The Pats have no problem putting a 40 mark on teams without apologies and they don't start running the ball when they get up 7-10 points, they pass pass pass until the other team waives the white flag.


Chad Johnson projections

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