Can Andre Johnson Turn It Around for Fantasy Football Owners?
Andre Johnson has been one of the best wide receivers in football since joining the NFL and has produced at a level that will put him in the conversation for the Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, if you own the 34-year-old in fantasy football this season, that is little consolation.
In his first two games with the Colts after signing with Indianapolis in the offseason, Johnson has just 7 catches for 51 yards on 17 targets.
It’s a troubling start on its own, but it is even more worrisome given Johnson’s struggles last season.
In terms of his basic stats, his 2014 season does not look all that bad, as he caught 85 passes for 936 yards with Houston, while enduring mediocre quarterback play.
The stat line looks much worse when viewed in light of Johnson’s 146 targets, meaning he had just a 6.4 yard-per-target average (a career low) and a 58.2% catch rate (his lowest since 2005).
A look at his recent performances in terms of our advanced metrics make things look even worse, so Johnson owners may want to begin searching for alternatives if they have not already.
An Inefficient 2014
Johnson ranked 52nd among all wide receivers last year in Net Expected Points (NEP) on his receptions and 102nd in NEP when being targeted.
Among the 87 receivers with at least 50 targets, only Cecil Shorts averaged fewer NEP per target. Johnson was 53rd in this group in catch rate but 70th in success rate (the percentage of receptions that yielded positive expected points).
It would be tempting, given Johnson’s track record, to blame Houston’s quarterbacks for his struggles, given that Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum, and Ryan Mallett led an offense that ranked 18th in Adjusted Passing NEP per play.
That trio (and Tom Savage) throwing balls Johnson’s way surely didn’t help, but it also did not prevent his teammate DeAndre Hopkins from putting up good numbers. The second-year receiver ranked 17th in Reception NEP, 40th in Target NEP, and 26th in NEP per target.
The difference between Hopkins and Johnson was perhaps most pronounced on throws down the field, where the veteran receiver’s struggles were most apparent.
While Hopkins was 8th in the league with a 15.9 yard-per-reception average, Johnson tied for 83rd at 11.0.
Johnson was targeted 17 times on passes 20 yards or farther down the field, catching 5 passes to rank 53rd in the league with a 29.4% catch rate, according to ProFootballFocus. Hopkins caught 12 of 27 deep targets, ranking 18th in deep catch rate.
461 of Johnson’s 936 receiving yards came on passes thrown within 9 yards of the line of scrimmage.
More Struggles in 2015
Despite his inability to make plays down the field, the thought during the offseason was that Johnson could replace his former college teammate Reggie Wayne, filling the role of veteran possession receiver and complementing deep threats T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and rookie Phillip Dorsett.
The results have been underwhelming so far.
Johnson ranks 55th in Reception NEP through two weeks of the NFL season and is 50th among the 58 players with at least 10 targets at his position in NEP per target.
He is 56th in catch rate (41.2%) and 49th in success rate.
Like last season, Johnson has been a non-factor down the field, catching only one of six targets thrown more than nine yards past the line of scrimmage.
The Colts offense as a whole has struggled in its first two games, ranking 26th in Adjusted NEP and 19th in Adjusted Passing NEP.
The unit which ranked sixth in the league in Adjusted Passing NEP per play last year will presumably get back on track, but it is fair to question how much Johnson will contribute.
Moncrief has passed Johnson in terms of targets (19 to Johnson’s 17), behind only Hilton (21) for the team lead. The second-year pro has made the most of these targets, as Moncrief ranks fifth in the league in Reception NEP.
Moncrief is younger, not limited to the 10-yard down the field range, and has been better than Johnson both this season and in 2014 (Moncrief was 32nd in Reception NEP per target among receivers with at least 49 targets). It is not hard to see the Ole Miss product passing Johnson in Andrew Luck's pecking order if he hasn’t already.
If you’re a Johnson owner and Moncrief is still available in your league -- he is owned in 73% of Yahoo leagues -- go get him (honestly, he’s probably someone you want to target if possible even if you don’t have Johnson).
The Colts’ schedule is forgiving and there will be plenty of targets to go around (Indianapolis led the league in pass attempts last season), so you may not want to totally give up on Johnson just yet.
That said, if you’re relying on Andre Johnson this season, you are probably setting yourself up for disappointment.