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Fantasy Football Blitz: Glad I skipped My Dinner with Andre Johnson
By Tim Heaney
One of his Friday entrees confirmed a fear I've had for some time: Andre Johnson looks like he's on his way down. The 31-year-old seemed like a decent value in drafts this year, frequently falling to Round 3 or 4. I probably would've ordered him if he had made it to me at those spots, but other drafters were always willing to pay menu price.
I'm glad I didn't, because A.J. would've left me a tad empty, and to express my irritation, I would've probably had uncomfortably introspective conversations with myself. (If you haven't yet, see the movie from the title. It's pretty darn good.)
He ranks 31st among wideouts in scoring standard leagues: just 17 catches, 283 yards and two touchdowns so far. That's a capable 16.6 hashmarks-per-grab average, but the volume leaves some to be desired, which was a chief preseason concern of mine that still looms for the high-priced, well-known commodity.
Since his 10-look Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins, he hasn't garnered more than six targets in a contest. He's hauled in three or fewer tosses in four of his five games, and if not for a 60-yard scoring bomb in Week 3 allowed chiefly by a safety blitz, Johnson would have been averaging 13.9 yards per snare for 2012 - not bad, but less than what his owners expect.
Even with that opportunistic gamebreaker, the consistent fear from defenders isn't there anymore. To be fair, AJ is really more of an after-the-catch dynamo than a blow-it-open deep threat, but Lombardi astutely points out the problem in assessing Johnson's one-catch, 15-yard game against the Darrelle Revis-less New York Jets:
During the preseason, I did not make Johnson a blue-chip player, downgrading him to red, but I'm not even sure he's that anymore. Johnson cannot run, burst or make sharp cuts, which has been the case since his hamstring injury.
Antonio Cromartie frequently performs well against wideouts that resemble his big, physical stature, so it wasn't completely surprising that Johnson faltered. My pessimism is neutralized by the big play he showed against Denver, which proves Johnson is hardly dead. He still makes shimmies here and there that freeze lesser DBs.
But Cromartie's coverage notes a disturbing trend: Johnson is showing he is no longer a true WR1, ala Larry Fitzgerald, where you'd have confidence in him to consistently create plays instead of falling into them when defenses prepare a silver platter. He's becoming more reliant on defensive ineptitude and mistakes to be productive.
Owen Daniels, meanwhile, has intercepted the "No. 1 target" throw, cashing in with what could become a career campaign. Per the Houston Chronicle's John McClain, a Texans authority, the seven-year vet "looks quicker than ever off the line of scrimmage. He's quicker in and out of his cuts. He looks faster than at any time since he suffered a major knee injury midway through the 2009 season."
Daniels' 33 targets on the year trump Johnson's by three. Conversion percentages: Daniels 69.7, Johnson 56.7. The surging tight end hasn't seen fewer than five or caught fewer than three in a game all year. Daniels finally looks like he's showing the elite skills he's flashed throughout his injury-stalled career.
Matt Schaub, who's been his efficient self and is remaining upright, seems more comfortable with Daniels. He's likely to remain a top-10, if not better, TE as long as he's on the field.
Gary Kubiak told the media this week that he needs to call more plays for Johnson, however. If the frequency of No. 80's calls picks up, maybe he will, too. But how inclined is Koob to go away from what's working for his undefeated squad?
Buying low on Johnson stands as a valid fantasy notion on the surface, especially with Kubiak saying his star wideout needs more food. Houston's remaining schedule features many delicious dates, too.
Still, I hesitate to proclaim such a fantasy move would carry much profit, depending on how your market shapes up. What must you give up for him? Johnson's name still carries weight, and his owners will likely still want a bloated ransom for him.
After all, Johnson will continue commanding the most attention from Houston's opponents in passing downs. Arian Foster (and sometimes Ben Tate) pays the bills in this zone-blocking, ground-dominated scheme. The aerial game works off it when needed and when matchups are right.
That can only go so far, though, if a team stands by the run. People were cozy in assuming Johnson would be elite as long as he remained on the field, not taking fully into account Houston's identity.
To take one of the best lines from the titular flick: " ... You like to be comfortable and I like to be comfortable, too, but comfort can lull you into a dangerous tranquility."
It's an unfortunate case: a talented accessory stuck in a successful program that doesn't need him as the main course. That's why Johnson owners will carry the unfortunate hunger for the elite production he used to serve.
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