You're Not Drafting Stevie Johnson Highly Enough in Fantasy Football
Stevie Johnson emerged in 2010, his third year in the league, making the leap from obscurity into fantasy relevance. In the fantasy wasteland that was the Bills' passing offense between 2010 and 2012, Johnson posted three straight 1,000-yard seasons, 237 total receptions, and 23 touchdowns. In 2013 he saw a steep drop-off in production, recording only 52 receptions for 597 yards. He found himself a new home in San Francisco for the 2014 season but again failed to post exciting numbers, with only 35 catches for 435 yards.
This decline has scared people off of Johnson in a big way. According to MyFantasyLeague.com's average draft position (ADP) numbers, Johnson is basically free in drafts right now. He's going as the 76th receiver off the board (one spot later than Josh Gordon who is suspended for the entirety of the 2015 season) and at an ADP of 201.4.
This is a huge overreaction to the last two seasons, and I'm going to be drafting as much Stevie Johnson as possible as long as his ADP stays where it is.
The Down Years
Johnson is only 28 years old, still in his physical prime, and I'm not ready to write his decline off on him being washed up just yet.
The 2013 Bills' passing offense was a dumpster fire. He still lead all Buffalo receivers in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns -- there just weren't many of those to go around. Of the five players who caught 25 or more passes in that offense, only two were wideouts.
According to our Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, which quantifies a team's production compared to league expectation level, the Bills had one of the worst passing attacks in the league in 2013, finishing 30th with an Adjusted Passing NEP per play of -0.11. They were also the third-most run heavy team with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.04.
Finding himself the number three receiver in San Francisco contributed to Johnson's 2014 struggles, but once again he was in an offense that wasn't exactly conducive to wide receiver success. The 49ers ranked 22nd in the league with an Adjusted Passing NEP per play of 0.03 and their pass-to-run ratio of 1.15 was the seventh most run-heavy.
Despite it looking like 2014 was Johnson's worst season on the surface, it was actually the most efficient year of his career.
|Year||Targets||Receptions||Reception NEP||Reception NEP/Target||Success Rate|
In addition to having the highest Reception NEP per target of his career, Johnson's efficiency carried over into the fantasy football world. Per Pro Football Focus, Johnson had the seventh-most fantasy points per snap among receivers that were on the field for at least 25% of their teams' snaps. These numbers are very encouraging for Johnson to be able to thrive in a better environment.
Johnson will hope to turn it around in San Diego in 2015. The Chargers' offense is a much friendly place for wide receivers than Buffalo or San Francisco have been. In 2014, they had an Adjusted Passing NEP per play of 0.15, tied for eighth-highest in the league, and were tied as the 12th most pass-heavy offense with a pass-to-run ratio of 1.53.
Admittedly, the Chargers' offense is a crowded place with many mouths to feed. Johnson will have to compete for targets with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd, and Ladarius Green
This may be scaring a lot of people off, but I'm not too concerned. In 2014, Eddie Royal had the same competition, and though he ended up only fourth on the team in targets, he had 91 of them. Only two players on the 49ers saw more than 90 targets last season. Johnson, who has put up a higher Reception NEP per target than Royal in three of the last four seasons, should have the opportunity to earn himself a similar number of targets.
Johnson is coming off of his most efficient years as a pro. He's only 28 years old and is only two years removed from being a 1,000-yard receiver. He will find himself in the best and most pass-heavy offense he has been part of. People are putting way too much stock in his low numbers and the crowded group of receivers in San Diego.
If Johnson were going a few rounds earlier, I could see the room for hesitation, but because he is essentially free right now, it's time to jump on Johnson in as many drafts as you can.