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Spotlight: Steve Johnson

posted by Will Grant on Aug 13th


Will Grant's thoughts

Steve 'Stylez' Johnson had a breaktout season in his third year with the Bills. Despite a slow start, Johnson took off like shot in Week Three and never looked back. He finished the season as the Bills' #1 receiver with 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs. He also finished as the #10 overall fantasy receiver and secured his position as the Bills' top target for the foreseeable future. Any doubt about Johnson's importance was put to rest when Buffalo traded Lee Evans to the Baltimore Ravens in earl August.

The Buffalo QB situation favors Johnson's success this season. Much of Johnson's success last season came after Ryan Fitzpatrick took over the starting job from Trent Edwards. Edwards is with the Raiders now and Fitzpatrick is the starting QB for the Bills. Although Buffalo picked up Tyler Thigpen during the offseason, reuniting him with Chan Gailey, Thigpen hasn't done much over the last three seasons. Although Gailey and Thigpen have a past, there's no doubt about his role as the #2 signal caller. This is great news for Johnson owners and gives Johnson a solid chance to repeat his performance from last season.

Although Johnson's breakout provided great value last season, there are some concerns with targeting him this year. With Evans gone, Johnson is clearly the biggest receiving threat on the team. This guarantees that opposing defenses will target him each week. This means constant double teams and always facing the #1 DB each week (say hello to Revis Island.) He'll also face stiff competition from the other Buffalo receivers Roscoe Parrish and David Nelson. Parrish had just 390 yards over the first eight games before being lost for the season to injury. Nelson enters his second season after closing out his rookie year with a TD reception in three of his last four games. Former Jets WR Brad Smith is also in the mix, but he'll be used more for his versatility and to run the wildcat offense rather than an every down WR.

Buffalo will probably run the ball more this season as well. The Bills drafted CJ Spiller to be a big part of their offensive schemes last season. Instead, he finished with 450 yards and 1 TD. He and RB Fred Jackson make a solid one-two punch at RB and in those cold winter months, they will probably see extended workload as they look to wear down opposing defenses. Spiller also has great hands and he'll be a tempting target for Fitzpatrick to check down or dump the ball to in an open field instead of forcing the ball downfield.

Positives

  • After a great breakout season for Buffalo last year, Johnson ascended into the #1 receiving role when Lee Evans was traded to Baltimore.
  • Great rapport with starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick give him a leg up on the other receivers on the team. Fitzpatrick looks to Johnson as his 'go to' guy, and Johnson will see a lot of opportunities coming his way.
  • Buffalo is still a team that is going to struggle this season. Their defense allowed more than 360 yards per game and they sustained several key loses on defense. Expect them to be playing from behind a lot, and throwing the ball to catch up.

Negatives

  • Taking over the starting #1 slot means facing tougher defensive players and schemes each week. Johnson isn't going to surprise anyone this year, meaning he'll earn every yard each week.
  • The Bills have several young receivers on the team, all of whom will be looking to make their mark and prove themselves. Johnson will have a target on his back, and he'll have to share the spotlight with these guys each week.
  • CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson make a solid 1-2 punch at RB. If the running game shows improvement from last season, it may mean fewer opportunities for Johnson on offense.

Final thoughts

Early camp reports say that Stevie 'Stylez' is bigger and faster than he was last season. He's in great shape and ready for the season to begin. The Bills have also said that they want to move him around on offense, and experiment with using him in different formations. This should keep opposing defenses guessing a bit and hopefully prevent them from focusing on locking Johnson down each week. While an improved running game would cut into his stats a bit more, the Bills probably won't be able to run the ball much as the game wears on since they'll be playing from behind and throwing to catch up. Look for Johnson to continue to have a solid performance this year, but probably fall a little short of last year's high performance rate. Look for Johnson as a late WR2, early WR3 for your fantasy team this year. His upside is pretty good, and his floor is pretty stable at that level as well. Just don't buy into the hype and overdraft him earlier than he is worth.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Ministry of Pain said:

What I like is that most of the offense is coming back. You have to think Buffalo is a candidate to lose 10+ games this year again. They likely will be behind and throwing the football a lot to try and catch up. I like Steve Johnson to continue what he started last season. He should be seen as a possible WR2 fo most owners in 12 team leagues.

I think a projection of 70/1,000/8TDs is perfectly legit and he exceeded those numbers last year.

We Tigers said:

I like Steve Johnson, but don't love him. As long as Fitzpatrick is QB, he will be the #1 target. The Bills seem content to keep that status quo since there really isn't another viable option on the roster, so that does work in his favor. That said, I don't find Johnson to be that special a talent--more a decent to good player in the right place at the right time--and have a hard time bumping him or even expecting him to match last year's numbers.

rzrback77 said:

Not a big fan of Stevie the name or Stevie the player. I do not like his situation as the Bills seem to be working up toward a focus on the running game. For the second straight year they drafted an RB and they already have two guys that are capable. I see them running more if they can stay in the games (which may be a stretch).

They have a plethora of young receivers and I just don't think that S Johnson is special. Evans is decent and should be better than in 10 when he was injured. Marcus Easley might get on the field some and surely Spiller, Fred Jackson, and even the rookie RB will catch some balls.

There is also the QB situation where Fitzpatrick may yet have some FA competition and isn't that awesome himself. Finally, there is the weather, where the passing game occasionally deteriorates with the weather around fantasy playoff time.

Johnson had a monster game in week 11 last season with 8 catches for over 100 yards and 3 TDs, but after that game, the performance decreased even with huge target numbers. Over the last six games, Johnson had 58 targets, just under 10 per game and yet only had 30 catches for 345 yards (58 ypg) and only 1 TD. Those target numbers for a full 16 game season would equal 155 targets and yet he managed only 58 yards and 0.17 TDs per game. There is no way that Johnson will see that number of targets (only Fitz, Wayne & Roddy reached that level last season) in 2011.

This guy has disappointment written all over him.

az_prof said:

It is not unusual for WRs to fall off from their career production, especially young WRS who have not proven that they are year in year out performers. I fully expect Johnson to decline from last year. Teams will better prepare to defend him. And the team did not upgrade at QB. I think 55/750/ 5 TDs is about right. He may get to 1000 yards but I will be surprised.

MrTwo94 said:

Steve had 82 receptions while Lee Evans posted just 37 rec as the 2nd option and the TEs were pretty much not used. Whether Steve Johnson is for real or not, I think we've seen his ceiling in this offense. I expect they will spread the ball around a little better next year. Whether by design or necessity. If they continue, their passing attack will become too easy to defend. Due to a better distribution, expect SJ's numbers to at least come down a bit, possibly more.


Steve Johnson projections

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Will Grant69917700
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