There’s seemingly been more talk than ever this year about the nonexistence of “sleepers” in fantasy football. That’s because with the abundance of so-called fantasy experts, deep dives aren’t so deep anymore. Yet, with all of the analysis and garnering for value, Stevie Johnson is still being overlooked by just about everyone.
Moving several hours down the Pacific Coast Highway, Johnson just got the exact change of scenery he needs. While he will be the third option in the Chargers’ passing game, behind Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates (when he returns from suspension), he still has a chance to put up some serious points. Throughout his entire career, Johnson’s quarterbacks have been Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick, E.J. Manuel, and bad Colin Kaepernick. Not exactly an inspiring group.
Now, not only is he playing with a once top-five quarterback, and current tier-two star, he’s in a situation that is conducive to fantasy scoring. Rivers has been known to feed his top options throughout his career, whether it be Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, Keenan Allen, or someone else. But the second receiver on the Chargers has been productive, especially relative to his ADP.
Last year, top-dog Keenan Allen wasn’t even the highest scoring PPR receiver on the Chargers. That belonged to Eddie Royal who was the WR32. Allen was the WR37, and Malcom Floyd even finished at WR39. In 2013, the second-scoring Chargers receiver, Royal, was the WR40 in 15 games. In 2012, Malcom Floyd was the WR37. In 2011, he was WR36. Clearly, the second fiddle in San Diego isn’t a horrible place to be, as these guys consistently finished in WR3 territory. Stevie Johnson is now not only in this exact position, I would argue he is more talented than Royal and Floyd. Plus, while his ADP has seen a small bump recently, he is still being taken as the WR52, at 129 overall, according to the RotoViz Best Ball App.
In terms of productivity, Johnson had three 1,000-yard seasons, all with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. From 2010-2012, Johnson finished as the WR10, WR16, and WR19 respectively. He clearly has talent, and with Allen and Gates commanding the attention of opposing defenses, Johnson should have some great one-on-one opportunities.
Coming out of college, Stevie Johnson wasn’t exactly a burner, but was described as having, “good initial quickness off the snap…developing route runner who made significant improvement as a senior.”
With good production at Kentucky, Johnson draws a bit of a mixed bag in terms of comparables, with some solid comps such as Jeremy Maclin, Sidney Rice, Brandon LaFell, and Mike Evans. The names that stand out to me are Maclin and LaFell. Similar to Johnson, Maclin and LaFell are good route runners, which successfully translates to good “possession receiver” chops. Maclin is a bit more complete as a receiver as he possesses the speed to go deep that LaFell and Johnson lack.
Not only is Brandon LaFell a similar prospect to Johnson, he has followed a similar career arc, just a year ahead: decent production with poor QB play coupled with a jump in stats when paired with a great QB. The difference is, LaFell didn’t have nearly the production Johnson has had before the change in scenery, so theoretically, Johnson will cash in even better than LaFell did last year.
To top it all off, Philip Rivers has raved about Johnson so far in camp, calling him one of the players he’s most excited for, and saying, “He seems like he makes a great catch every day.”
While Stevie Johnson isn’t a world-beater, he has sneaky WR2 potential this year with a relatively high floor. As long as he stays healthy, Johnson will be at least a WR3/Flex play, and at best a low-level WR2, all for a fraction of the price.