Paying Homage to Andre Johnson
On October 31, 2016, wide receiver Andre Johnson announced his retirement. Many pundits said he should've made the move after the 2014 season and, if you watched him play the past two years, you probably would've agreed. The thing is, Johnson built up enough equity over his career to retire whenever and however he chose.
Why am I such a fan of Johnson?
But you didn't come to numberFire for awesome GIFs. You came here for numbers, so those are what I shall provide.
What the Numbers Say
Over his 14-year career, Johnson played in 193 games, which ranks 37th all-time among wide receivers. His 1,062 receptions place him 9th, and his 14,185 yards puts him 10th. Is this the case of volume and longevity bolstering the status of a player? Being able to play 14 seasons is a skill in of itself and, if a player was just meh, he probably wouldn't keep receiving opportunities.
Let's take a look at Johnson's career utilizing our in-house Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.
Since Johnson's 2003 rookie season, among all the wide receivers with at least 75 catches, his best single-season mark in Reception NEP ranked as the 34th-best season, which came when he posted a mark of 126.68 in 2008. That means that, over the course of the season, Johnson added 126.28 points above expectation to the Houston Texans that season. The leader during this time frame was Torry Holt, who put up a ridiculous 168.55 mark. On a per-target basis, though, Johnson's highest rank was only 89th, when he posted a mark of 0.76 in 2010. The league average that year was 0.66.
So what gives?
Touchdowns, David Carr and Matt Schaub
Despite being a consistently good player, Johnson never reached the double-digit mark in touchdowns. He had one season with nine and three seasons with eight. At 6' 3" and 229 pounds, it's puzzling that he didn't convert more catches for touchdowns, although there are reasons for it.
One factor has to be the number of red zone targets he received. Since 2008, Johnson received 30 or more red zone targets just three times. Ironically, in 2014 he received the most red zone targets of his career with 44, yet scored the second-fewest touchdowns with three. One of the preeminent red zone receivers of this era was Calvin Johnson. Since 2008, there was only one year in which he did not receive at least 30 red zone targets. Touchdowns are fickle, and it could be argued that many variables go into red zone targets. With that said, there's no denying that scheme and play-calling influenced the lower opportunities afforded to Johnson.
Quarterback play was also an issue. David Carr was Johnson's quarterback for the first four years of his career. Carr was bad and got beat like a pinata. His best year was in 2004 when he posted a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.06. The league average that year was 0.03, so not bad right? Well, over the past 14 years, among all quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, that 0.06 mark is good for 219th. Not so good. With that said, Johnson managed to eclipse 1,000 yards two times and have a 103-catch season with Carr at the controls.
Matt Schaub was the quarterback for Johnson from 2007 to 2013. During that span, Johnson had four seasons with over 100 catches and three seasons with at least 1,500 yards. Schaub's best year was in 2011, when he posted a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.24. The league average was 0.01 that year, and the 0.24 mark was good for the 43rd-best season among all quarterback with at least 100 dropbacks in a year during Johnson's career. Schaub had some decent years during his career, but he was not a great quarterback by any stretch of the imagination. I mean, the guy had four consecutive games in which he threw a pick-6.
Hall of Fame?
Johnson certainly has the raw numbers to be included into the Hall of Fame. Imagine if he played in a more wide-open offense and with better quarterbacks? When you look at it from that perspective, the numbers that Johnson did put up are even more remarkable. Hopefully, Johnson doesn't get pushed aside for variables that were out of his control. The guy was a straight beast and a consistently productive player throughout this career despite less-than-ideal circumstances.