If the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s bust supplier wants to save some time, it could use any lull in activity to start working on getting Andre Johnson in bronze. No matter what happens the rest of his career, he’s going to have a place in Canton. By time the 2015 season ends, he’ll be in the top 10 in NFL history in receiving yards and, depending on whether or not Reggie Wayne finds a home, he may be in the top five in receptions. This season, he’s going to surpass Henry Ellard, Cris Carter and James Lofton in yards. If Wayne doesn’t play, he’ll pass his former University of Miami teammate. If he reaches 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his career, he’ll put Marvin Harrison in his rear-view mirror, as well. Meanwhile, only Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez are guaranteed to be ahead of Johnson on the all-time reception list when this season ends. He needs 77 catches to pass Terrell Owens, 83 to best Tim Brown, 90 to outdo Carter and 91 to move ahead of Harrison. So, yeah, we think it’s safe for Hall of Fame Bust, Inc. to start working on Johnson’s likeness.
It might seem like a lot to ask of a 34-year-old receiver who isn’t even the No. 1 option on his team to post a 90-catch, 1,000-yard season. As we just made clear, however, Johnson isn’t just any receiver. He also doesn’t play in any old offense with any old quarterback. Now that Johnson is freed from the shackles of Houston and has been let loose in the veritable Eden of the Indianapolis offense led by Andrew Luck, he could easily reach those numbers while also doing one of the few things he has never done in his career: reach the end zone 10 times.
Johnson has placed his name among the very best to ever play the position without a ton of help from the man throwing him the ball, regardless of who it has been at any point in his career. Rice had Joe Montana and Steve Young. Harrison and Wayne had Peyton Manning. Carter had Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham. Here’s the quarterbacks who started at least one game during Johnson’s time in Houston, which dates back to 2003: David Carr, Tony Banks, Dave Ragone, Matt Schaub, Sage Rosenfels, T.J. Yates, Matt Leinart, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Mallett. Johnson was dealt a challenging enough hand by getting scooped up by the Texans in their second year of existence. That the best quarterback, by far, during his Houston tenure was Matt Schaub seems punitive.
Johnson did have some help in his 12-season run with the Texans. To be fair, Schaub was an above-average quarterback in 2009 and '10. Arian Foster has been one of the most prolific running backs since 2010, and took a ton of pressure off of Johnson by finally providing the team with a sound rushing attack. Still, Johnson was often playing with less help than his brethren among the wide receiver elite. And that makes what he accomplished, especially in recent years, all the more impressive.
Even with the subpar quarterback play in Houston last season, Johnson caught 85 passes for 936 yards and three scores. The year before when, remember, his quarterbacks were Schaub and Keenum, he had 109 grabs for 1,407 yards and five touchdowns. Racking up 1,400 yards in today’s NFL is not uncommon. Doing so with the Schaub-Keenum duo under center, and finishing seventh in the league in receiving, no less, is a remarkable feat. Luckily for Johnson, he’ll have a slightly better quarterback throwing him the ball this season.
Luck was the most consistent fantasy quarterback last season, no matter the fact that he left his owners hanging in the championship game. He threw for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns last season, and is only getting better. Luck is already among the best quarterbacks in the league and, most importantly for fantasy purposes, he’s going to throw the ball somewhere in the neighborhood of 600 times this season. Johnson’s owners can bet on him being targeted on 170 or so of those passes.
The offensive environment in Indianapolis is one of the best for a receiver. In addition to having Luck at the helm, Johnson will have the pleasure of playing across the field from budding star T.Y. Hilton. Johnson had essentially just as good a running mate in DeAndre Hopkins in his last two years with the Texans, but it’s a completely different equation when you give a quarterback like Luck a pair of receivers like Johnson and Hilton. The Colts also added Frank Gore to legitimize their ground game, and have a pair of dangerous tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. This is going to be a scary offense, and one in which fantasy owners want to invest. Johnson provides you the opportunity to do so at a very reasonable price.
There already aren’t many receivers in NFL history who can say their resume matches up to Johnson’s. After 2015, there will be even fewer. Johnson’s career spans two eras in fantasy football. When he entered the league in 2003, fantasy was still a game dominated by running backs. As the game changed, Johnson was the first receiver in the 2000s to gain widespread acceptance as a first-round fantasy pick. He may not throw it back to those 1,500-yard days of yore with Hilton on the other side of the field, but another 1,000-yard season with 80-90 catches and at least eight touchdowns is well within reach. In fact, I think he’ll come in well above those numbers. Johnson will be a rock-solid WR2, finish the season as a top-15 receiver and push the WR1 class.