Getting Rid of Andre Johnson Is a Smart Move for the Houston Texans
It's kind of tough to write something negative about Andre Johnson. He's got over 1,000 career receptions, more than 13,000 career yards, and even though it's never been his forte, Johnson's found the end zone 64 times at the NFL level.
But I understand why the Texans want to cut or trade him. I can see where they're coming from.
Getting rid of Andre Johnson makes sense.
As it stands, Andre Johnson is the greatest Houston Texan of all time. We know better, though, than to let this fact overshadow what's actually happening on the football field. Because what's happening on the football field isn't exactly pretty.
Johnson's Career, By the Numbers
Here at numberFire, we like to analyze football through our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. If you haven't read about it, NEP looks at how a player performs versus how he's supposed to perform on each play he's involved. It allows us to view a player's numbers in a more realistic, genuine way -- after all, 10 yards on a 3rd-and-11 shouldn't equate to the same value as 10 yards on a 3rd-and-9. One picks up a first down, while the other doesn't.
You can read more about Net Expected Points in our glossary.
Over the course of his career, Andre Johnson's NEP numbers are predictably good. Here's a snapshot:
Reception NEP tells us the number of expected points a player adds on catches only. It's a cumulative metric -- a player who sees more volume is generally going to see a higher Reception NEP total, as long as that player isn't completely inefficient.
As you can see, Johnson's been great throughout his career within the metric, ranking in the top 20 among all NFL wideouts in 8 of his 12 campaigns. The only instances -- aside from 2014, and we'll get into that in a bit -- he failed to reach a top-20 ranking was when he missed time.
Andre Johnson's really good.
But I can't ignore one aspect that's hugely important between "really good" and "great" for a wide receiver. And that's efficiency. When you divide a player's Reception NEP by the number of targets he sees, you can get a good idea of how many expected points a player is adding when he's targeted. So let's take a look at the same chart above, this time with volume included.
|Year||Reception NEP||Rank||Targets||Targets Rank||Rec NEP/Target|
While Johnson has been a top-20 wideout in terms of cumulative Reception NEP during just about every healthy season of his career, it's tough to get past the fact that he's also seen a heck of a lot of targets.
Only four of Johnson's NFL seasons saw his targets ranking come in lower than his Reception NEP ranking. Out of a wide receiver, you'd ideally want the opposite -- you'd want a pass-catcher who's seeing fewer targets and adding a whole lot of expected points.
This, too, shows up in Johnson's Reception NEP per target averages. These numbers may initially seem meaningless to you, but among all 80-plus target receivers since 2000, the Reception NEP per target average is 0.69. As you can see, Johnson hit that mark in the majority of his seasons, but he only far surpassed it once.
And, actually, when you factor in Johnson's total Reception NEP and volume throughout his career, you get a wideout with a Reception NEP per target of 0.67, thanks to some miserable performances of late. That's below the league average among relatively high-volume receivers.
What's really important is how Johnson's performed of late. A team doesn't cut a player because he was good 10 years ago -- what matters is how the player has performed most recently.
Over the last five years, 19 receivers have accumulated a total of 500 or more targets. Andre Johnson has seen 627 of his own, which is fifth highest in the league. Johnson, though, ranks 16th among this elite cohort in Reception NEP, and 16th in Reception NEP per target. The players ranking worse in per target NEP include Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.
There are players on the list ahead of Johnson in per-target NEP who you may not expect, like Steve Johnson, Mike Wallace, Anquan Boldin, and Dwyane Bowe.
Certainly quarterback play has a part in all of this as well, and this brings up an interesting point. You can see that Johnson's last two seasons (2013 and 2014) have seen a dramatic dip in per target efficiency. His 2014 campaign was especially bad, coming in at 0.38 Reception NEP per target, which ranked 86th of the 87 wide receivers last year with 50 or more targets.
Compared to his teammates -- players with the same quarterback play -- Andre Johnson hasn't stood out at all over the last two years.
|Year||Player||Reception NEP||Targets||Rec NEP/Target|
The Texans have had six separate 40-plus target wide receiver seasons over the last two seasons. Andre Johnson owns two of these, as does DeAndre Hopkins. The other two belong to Keshawn Martin and Damaris Johnson.
In 2013, Martin's Reception NEP per target was identical to Andre Johnson's, while Hopkins, as a rookie, led the way. In 2014, Hopkins was a monster (in context), while Andre Johnson was the least efficient receiver on the Texans.
Andre Johnson wasn't necessarily worse than Keshawn Martin or Damaris Johnson over the last two years -- when you see a high volume of targets, that alone can be impactful. Jerome Bettis just made the Hall of Fame because of this, if we're being honest. But it's alarming to see a perceived stud receiver -- if not stud, a top one -- see such poor efficiency. And that's more than likely why the Texans are parting ways.
A Smart Move By Houston
The Texans are open to trading Johnson to get something in return, but they're more than likely not going to find a partner who will take on his contract. By cutting Johnson, Houston will clear $8.8 million in cap space.
It's the wise thing to do. Johnson's been a volume receiver over the course of his fantastic career, and while taking on a lot of volume can make up for a lack of efficiency, his effectiveness with each target has dipped so dramatically of late that he's become far less important than in year's past. He's just not worth it.
The problem for Houston is that they now have obvious holes in their passing game. Not only is there now a number-two receiver spot to fill -- unless they, for whatever reason, feel confident with what they have -- but the Texans are still in need of a quarterback.
Let's just remember to take all of this for what it is. Andre Johnson had a great career in Houston. He'll go down as one of the best to play in a Texans uniform. But he's not the same Andre Johnson we watched just five years ago. He's not on that level anymore. And that's OK. Because at some point, all good things must come to an end.