Dynasty Cliff Hanger: Andre Johnson
The key to successfully running a Dynasty franchise is the ability to identify when the value of a player will rise or fall before it happens, thus enabling you to profit off of the gap between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of an asset. I have written several articles this offseason about players who I think will see a spike in their value in 2013, so I decided it was time to bring to light some players who I think owners should be actively shopping before they reach the proverbial cliff. We begin with one of the household names in the fantasy industry: Andre Johnson.
Johnson enjoyed one of his career best years last season as the Texans finally got the playoff monkey off their backs. His 112 catch, 1598 yard campaign was good for eighth overall in standard scoring formats and fifth overall in points per reception leagues. He played in all 16 games and had huge performances when it mattered most in the fantasy playoffs. He made anyone who successfully bought low on the University of Miami alumni following his injury marred 2011 look extremely smart. Despite this stellar 2012 performance and his career of dominance at the wide receiver position, I can point to several reasons why I think the former Hurricane is heading for a decline in production.
The first and most obvious thing working against Johnson’s Dynasty value is his advancing age and the health issues that come with it. At 32 years old, he is undoubtedly past his prime. Lest we forget that prior to his monster 2012, many Dynasty leaguers wouldn’t touch Johnson with a ten foot pole. He missed a combined 12 games the two years prior with nagging injuries that had everyone wondering if he was over the hill. Now his injury history is rarely mentioned if at all. I’m not calling him injury prone, but it would be unwise to forget the conventional wisdom among the fantasy community from less than a year ago.
While his age is a concern, something that scares me even more is his lack of a presence in the red zone. The fact that he finished in the top ten fantasy wide receivers despite only scoring four touchdowns last season is a testament to how good of a year he had. This is not a new trend, however. Even when Johnson was in his prime we in the fantasy community kept pointing to the fact that he has never had a 10 touchdown season. Below are his red zone numbers over the last five years since PFF has started aggregating data.
|Receiving||Games||TD||RZ TA||RZ Rec||RZ TD|
It doesn’t take a statistician to see the glaring downward trends in his red zone numbers. His total touchdowns, red zone targets, red zone receptions, and red zone touchdowns have dropped dramatically over the last four years. How can we expect him to increase his dismal total of four touchdowns if he is being targeted in the red zone less than ever? The answer is we can’t. Additionally, at 32 years old, how much longer can we expect his reception and yardage totals to buoy his overall fantasy production enough to make him a top tier wide receiver? Not for long, because those totals are only going to go down from here on out.
My last argument against Johnson moving forward stems from Houston’s play calling and distribution of overall targets. The Texans boast one of the league’s best running backs in Arian Foster behind an excellent offensive line. This led to them calling the fourth most rushing plays of any team in the league last year. This style of play calling immediately reduces the aggregate number of targets that the team’s pass catchers share between them, and there has been no indication that Gary Kubiak plans on changing his philosophy. This is reflected by the fact that the Texans had the fifth fewest total targets between their wide receivers last year.
Right away this puts Andre Johnson at a disadvantage compared to other wide receivers in more pass happy offenses, because fewer targets mean less opportunity for fantasy points. Nevertheless, Kubiak’s play calling has not had a material effect on Johnson’s production yet because he has historically dominated targets among the Texan’s wide receivers. In other words, he has just been eating a bigger piece of a smaller pie. To show this, I compiled the total targets for all the wide receivers on each team last year and then calculated the percentage of that total that the team leader in targets garnered. The results are below.
Houston leading target getter, Johnson, had by far the highest percentage of team wide receiver targets in the league. Other than target monsters Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, who are both in their prime, there was nearly a ten percentage point gap between Johnson and the next highest player (Buffalo’s Stevie Johnson).
Andre has been able to produce high total target numbers despite Kubiak’s affinity for the run because he has never had a legitimate threat opposite him to demand Matt Schaub’s attention. That will change this year with the arrival of first round pick DeAndre Hopkins. With solid route running and great hands, the Clemson product projects to be Houston’s number two and possession receiver in the mold of Roddy White. He is already running with the first team in OTA’s and he has received nothing but effusive praise from the coaching staff and teammates. With Hopkins in tow, I would expect to see Andre Johnson’s slice of an already small pie shrink.
While I’m sure he still has some good seasons left in the tank and the effect of Hopkins may not be felt right away, the simple fact is that Johnson’s fantasy value is heading full speed towards the inevitable cliff of old age in a young man’s league. If you own him, I would suggest taking advantage of this fact and moving him while he is coming off a huge season and is still considered a top end fantasy option. If you can get top 10 wide receiver value for him, I would make the move as soon as possible.
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