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Spotlight: Steve Johnson

posted by Jeff Haseley on Aug 6th

Jeff Haseley's thoughts

The Bills uncontested primary receiving threat for the 2012 season is fifth year pro, Steve Johnson. After two years of little production, Johnson stormed onto the scene with two consecutive 134+ target seasons, each of which included a minimum of 76 receptions, 1,000 yards receiving and 7 touchdowns. In short, he arrived as a fantasy threat with WR2 production at minimum. Johnson's best year was 2010, his breakout year, in which he totaled 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Heading into the 2011 season, the expectations were high for Johnson. He scored in each of the first three games, but struggled to stay consistent the rest of the season. He played through a nagging groin injury that definitely hampered his production in 2011. The injury was severe enough to require off season surgery, but he is expected to be a full go in training camp and should have no ill effects in the 2012 season.

Fantasy Value
Johnson's ADP has risen recently, now that his status from recovering from off season groin surgery has improved. His value is maximized as a late fifth round selection, but in some recent drafts he has gone as early as a late fourth or early fifth round pick. Wide receivers are very deep this year, but Johnson at ADP WR23 PPR and WR25 Non-PPR is considered a bargain. He is projected to finish in the low 20's and that's a very modest prediction, if you factor in his return to health and another season in Chan Gailey's offense.

In Good Company
Johnson is one of eight wide receivers to total 130+ targets in each of the last two years. Only Roddy White has more receiving first downs on third and fourth down plays over that same span.

Wide Receiver 2010 Targets 2011 Targets
Roddy White 177 179
Larry Fitzgerald 172 153
Reggie Wayne 175 132
Brandon Lloyd 153 150
Calvin Johnson 137 160
Brandon Marshall 146 142
Steve Johnson 142 134
Dwayne Bowe 131 142

Over the last two years, 35 wide receivers have scored 10+ receiving touchdowns. Johnson is 7th on the list with 17 touchdowns.

First Last Tgts Recs RecYD YPR RecTD FPTs
Calvin Johnson 297 173 2801 16.2 28 452.4
Greg Jennings 222 143 2214 15.5 21 347.3
Dwayne Bowe 273 152 2315 15.2 19 347.1
Hakeem Nicks 259 153 2212 14.5 18 329.2
Mike Wallace 211 132 2450 18.6 18 362.6
Roddy White 356 213 2667 12.5 18 375.0
Steve Johnson 276 158 2046 12.9 17 306.6
Jordy Nelson 159 113 1845 16.3 17 286.5
Wes Welker 296 208 2421 11.6 16 341.1
Brandon Lloyd 303 147 2414 16.4 16 335.6
Marques Colston 239 165 2175 13.2 15 307.6
Jeremy Maclin 209 132 1818 13.8 15 275.6
Dez Bryant 177 109 1505 13.8 15 241.0
Lance Moore 167 117 1370 11.7 15 227.0
Mike Williams 253 129 1731 13.4 14 257.4
Larry Fitzgerald 325 170 2548 15.0 14 338.8
Miles Austin 192 112 1620 14.5 14 261.7
Santonio Holmes 195 102 1400 13.7 14 228.4
Nate Washington 215 116 1710 14.7 13 254.7
Laurent Robinson 154 87 1200 13.8 13 196.6
Mario Manningham 169 99 1467 14.8 13 224.9
Pierre Garcon 251 137 1731 12.6 12 248.5
Kenny Britt 99 59 1064 18.0 12 178.4
Vincent Jackson 138 74 1354 18.3 12 213.9
James Jones 141 88 1314 14.9 12 203.4
Malcom Floyd 147 80 1573 19.7 11 223.3
Deion Branch 182 112 1520 13.6 11 218.0
Percy Harvin 228 157 1814 11.6 11 310.3
Robert Meachem 127 85 1311 15.4 11 201.1
Santana Moss 240 139 1716 12.3 10 231.0
DeSean Jackson 197 104 2013 19.4 10 281.8
Andre Johnson 187 118 1693 14.3 10 231.1
Reggie Wayne 307 185 2303 12.4 10 290.3
Anquan Boldin 214 120 1711 14.3 10 231.0
Donald Driver 142 88 1010 11.5 10 161.0

2012 Outlook
The groin injury should be behind Johnson, which leads many to believe he will be back to his Top 15 form, scoring frequently and producing consistent numbers week to week. In an era where quarterbacks reign supreme, Buffalo's Ryan Fitzpatrick is coming off 23 and 24 touchdown pass seasons. That's far from the top of the league. Nine other quarterbacks had more touchdown passes than Fitzpatrick last season. That's not to say that Johnson isn't capable of producing 10+ touchdowns. He did so in 2010, but if the scoring distribution includes others, especially in the red zone, namely 6-foot-5 David Nelson or 6-foot-2 Derek Hagan, Johnson could see fewer touchdowns. He doesn't have blazing speed, so he won't have many long scores, lowering his yards per reception numbers. He is a target magnet however, so he should see plenty of action as the team's go-to possession receiver. A safe estimate is 70-80 receptions, for 950-1000 yards and 7-8 touchdowns.


  • Johnson managed a wide receiver PPR rank of 16 last year, despite playing with a nagging groin injury that hampered his production. He has recovered from off season surgery and should be full strength for the preseason.
  • His receiving numbers over the last two years rival several of the Top 10 wide receivers in the league. His 17 touchdowns in the last two years is 7th best among all wide receivers. His ability to perform well against division mate and all pro cornerback, Darrell Revis is a feather in his cap.
  • Johnson's ADP of WR23 PPR and WR25 Non-PPR is a bargain, considering he was the 16th ranked PPR wide receiver last year. He is one of several solid wide receiver picks available in the fifth round in re-draft leagues.


  • Injury or not, Johnson was mildly inconsistent last year. He was considered a possible candidate to join into elite status last year, but it did not happen. At best he was a WR2 last year and likely will keep that distinction in 2012.
  • The Bills offense may be on the rise, but two years of 23 and 24 touchdown passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick is not indicative of what the league's top wide receivers have at their disposal.
  • Johnson lacks elite speed, which keeps him from being a deep threat. As a result, his yards per reception is lower, which means he'll need more receptions and/or touchdowns to keep pace with some of the better wide receivers in the league. If the scores don't come, Johnson will be lucky to be a Top 25 wide receiver this year.

Final thoughts

Steve Johnson is one of the better rising receivers in the league. He plays well against tight coverage and has earned the top receiving threat for the Bills. He gets good separation, however he is not one to stretch the field and make big plays down field. He is more of a possession guy who will catch 70-80 balls with 7-8 touchdowns. His ADP of WR23/WR25 is higher than where he expects to finish, which makes him a very good fifth round pick in re-draft leagues. He played through a lingering groin injury last year and still finished as the 16th ranked wide receiver in the league (PPR). Off season surgery should have him prepared to begin the season with no ill effects of the groin injury.

Quotations from the message board thread

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

TheDirtyWord said:

As the primary WR on the Bills without much of a challenge from any other player - Johnson is a solid if unspectacular option as a WR2. Despite consecutive 1000 yard seasons, Johnson has but 4 100 yard games. As the clear cut WR1 on a team with questionable passing game pedigree, I don't feel there is much upside to explore with Johnson and the potential for a breakout season is minimal.

In addition, if you are the BUF brass, do you run your offense through potentially one of the most dynamic RB combinations in football or Ryan Fitzpatrick? Don't get me wrong, the Bills need Fitzpatrick to be successful in order for them to be successful, but they'll need to provide an offensive structure that takes the focus off Fitzpatrick's ability to make plays. Last season, particularly in the season's second half when the Bills lost 8 of their last 9...they were throwing the ball close to 40 times per game. That simply can't happen again.

Over the last 2 seasons, Johnson has been targeted on about 25% of the Bills passing attempts. As such, I think he'll top out at the 125 target area if he doesn't come down even a bit more than that as the Bills look to spread out their passing game to other targets. This would be down from 143 & 135 the previous 2 years. So we'll continue to see his stats creep down but the level of consistency Johnson has showed between his two seasons should give you as good an idea of where to draft him based upon expectation. Potentially has the narrowest range of any high-to-medium drafted player.

FF Ninja said:

Stevie broke out in a large way in his 3rd year after posting just 12 receptions previously. On 142 targets he put up 82/1073/10 (WR10). Last year he was hampered by a groin injury all season long, which took offseason surgery to repair, and still managed 76/1004/7 (WR21) on 132 targets. It is also worth mentioning that his QB was playing injured for half the season. Give both his and Fitzpatrick's health, I think he is a lock to outperform his WR24 draft position. I'd like to say he doesn't have the upside of some of the guys around him, but that WR10 finish in 2010 says otherwise.

Here is the ADP for the WRs around him:
44 Marques Colston NO WR 17
45 Miles Austin DAL WR 18
46 Vincent Jackson TB WR 19
49 Dwayne Bowe KC WR 20
50 Demaryius Thomas DEN WR 21
55 Kenny Britt TEN WR 22
57 Jeremy Maclin PHI WR 23
58 Steve Johnson BUF WR 24
61 DeSean Jackson PHI WR 25
65 Antonio Brown PIT WR 26
66 Brandon Lloyd NE WR 27

I like Stevie over everyone there except for Miles Austin and Brandon Lloyd, but Antonio Brown is very close.
Colston is on an offense that surely won't have as many passes or yards to go around as last year's record year.
VJax is in a new situation which could be explosive, but I just don't like his chances there. Which Freeman will he be catching passes from? 2010 or 2011?
Bowe will likely see a similar number of targets as Stevie, but KC is better set up to pound the ball in than Buffalo. His targets will decrease if anything.
Thomas has upside with Peyton there, but Decker's rapport with Manning has to be concerning as does Manning's health and arm strength.
Britt is coming off ACL surgery and is likely on a rather poor passing attack.
Maclin should put up similar number to Stevie, but Vick's injury history bumps Maclin down a bit.
Jackson is just an inconsistent performer coupled with the questions surronding Vick's health.

So I think Stevie is a great value here that can be drafted a round early. His consistency should have you sleeping well at night. If you snag him at his ADP of WR24, you are drafting him as the last WR2 off the board, but he'll almost certainly give you over 1000 yards and 7 TD which is better than most people's WR2.

Steve Johnson projections

Jeff Haseley781030700
Message board consensus791069800