Prior to the 2010 season, we were on a five year run where only two Buffalo Bills could be counted on in fantasy football. One was receiver Lee Evans, who had been putting up good but not great numbers during his time in Buffalo, and the other was whoever was lined up at running back.
This year, both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are fighting for carries, so neither can be relied on to be a top fantasy back. At receiver, Evans has seen both his fantasy numbers, as well as, his PFF receiving rating decrease in each of the last three years.
There is, however, one Bills’ player who came out of nowhere to be a great fantasy football pickup last year. While it may have been a tweet that gave him the most national attention in the 2010 season, it is the play of Steve Johnson that should be remembered by fantasy football players everywhere.
The last few players in the fantasy gem series have been high draft picks that got their starting jobs early on, but Steve Johnson had to work his way up the depth chart to get his chance. He was drafted in the seventh round in 2008, where he would begin behind Lee Evans, Josh Reed, Roscoe Parrish, and fellow rookie second round pick James Hardy on the depth chart.
In his first year, he saw just 145 snaps, with most coming later in the season, including a start against the Browns. Meanwhile, fellow rookie James Hardy saw his snaps decrease as the season went on. In 2009, Terrell Owens entered the picture, which pushed Johnson further back on the depth chart and limited him to just 18 snaps.
The Terrell Owens experiment in Buffalo ended after one year, and the Bills decided not to resign Josh Reed. Steve Johnson passed both Roscoe Parrish and James Hardy on the depth chart during training camp, which resulted in the release of James Hardy and the beginning of the Steve Johnson era in Buffalo.
Why Pick Him
Just looking at Johnson’s numbers in 2010, you get a sense that he could be a good fantasy pick. However, if you consider that it wasn’t until after the Bills bye week that Johnson was strongly featured in the Bills offense, you’ll get a better concept of his potential.
Extrapolating his last 11 games over the full 16 game schedule, you get 95 catches, 1250 yards and 9 touchdowns. Some wide receivers put up great numbers in a handful of games, but don’t help your fantasy team at all in others. Johnson, on the other hand, showed consistency. He averaged 10 targets a game during the 11 game span, with at least 8 targets in all but one game.
It is the combination of opportunity and talent that makes him such an attractive fantasy option. He is clearly the top target in Buffalo with one in every four throws going in his direction. It doesn’t look like the Bills will be a significantly better team in 2011, which means a lot of playing from behind and opportunities for padding his statistics.
While having the opportunity is nice, having talent is also very important. Over the last 11 games, he had just over 2 yards per pass route run, which would have put him on 15th in the rankings for the season. Considering he’s seen significant playing time in just one season, there is reason to believe he can improve going forward.
If there is anything that could make Johnson an even better option, it would be an improvement of the offensive line. Without pressure, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick had a PFF rating of +20.5, where with pressure he was at -4.5. If some of the young players can improve, or the Bills sign a player or two in free agency, Fitzpatrick would have more good throws, which can only help Johnson.
While players like Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson will get picked very early on, you can wait a round or two and pick another receiver named Johnson who will end up as a top ten fantasy scorer.