Many times I’ll refuse to settle into defending a hypothesis until — gasp! — I’ve looked at the numbers, so when I was ready to karate chop the world on Sunday evening after Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler went WD-40 on the ball and hopes for the Bills season… I reserved some time to look at some numbers.
Head to the * at the bottom if you want to see me give far more attention to Scott Chandler than is humanly interesting.
The wild conversation in our feast or famine sports culture, which exists to tell us only whether the someone is the best or the worst, is whether Stevie Johnson should be booted out of Buffalo or extended until he’s 900 years old because he’s “always open.”
What the numbers bear out is that Johnson is a very good receiver who is relatively reliable and whose drama makes him less than an ideal guy. Remember how I often said Lee Evans was a terrific No.2 receiver but one of the world’s worst No. 1? Stevie’s a great No. 2 receiver and a “meh” No. 1.
First, the bad: Fact is for his eight career 100-yard games the guy has four game-vomiting misfires. That’s not a good ratio. There was Sunday’s buttery ball work against Atlanta, crucial late fourth-quarter drops against New England this year and the Jets a couple back, plus the time God took his time away from all the violence in the world to make sure the Bills lost to Pittsburgh.
Additionally, the Bills are just 4-4 in those 100-yard games and, while this certainly is just picking a relatively arbitrary number, Buffalo is just 11-9 when he makes six or more catches (Why six? If a player averages 6.25 receptions per game, he’ll hit 100 receptions in a year. Considering Eric Moulds, the rich man’s Stevie Johnson, is the only Bill to do that at an even 100, it’ll work for me). There are plenty or variables at play here (more passing in losses, bad teams pass a lot in general), but I would posit that calling Johnson a No. 1 receiver or an elite route-runner or whatever the Stevie Stars like to roll with these days is foolhardy.
That said, he’s pretty good, if not solid. Sure he barely crossed the 1,000 yard plateau for the last three seasons and that figure is merely important because it has four digits, but at some level he’s doing something precious few players are doing. Johnson may not catch a ton of balls, but the fact that he’s the first Bill to record 1,000-plus yards in three-straight seasons glosses over another sublime fact: only Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Roddy White and Marques Colston entered this year having achieved the feat in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
So even if I entered the idea of this post kinda hoping it would tell me I’ve overrated No. 13, here’s my take: You don’t need to send Stevie Johnson to another NFL team (unless someone is absurd in how they value wide-outs and wants to give you a way-too-high pick. Then do it ASAP). He’ll be perfectly fine doing his thing as a Buffalo Bill, but the sooner Buffalo has a better No. 1 option, the better. His drama is unnecessary and — get this — there would be far less of it if the wasn’t the receiver everyone talked to every week. If the Bills grabbed a Mike Evans or Sammy Watkins, we wouldn’t have to hear from Stevie every single day (Also, I’m gritting my teeth in not giving my input on which WR to covet since my oft-repeated-but-failed notion that Limas Sweed would be an NFL stud. Cough, seven career catches, cough. Cough, I love Odell Beckham, Jr., late, cough.).
*Chandler’s an easy one. Dude doesn’t need to leave town but characterizing him with even the potential of a top tier tight end is silly. Bills fans are simply caught up in thinking Robert Royal, Michael Gaines and company are sort of tight ends that most teams have on staff. Chandler’s a notch above most Bills, but his zero receptions over 40+ yards tell you a little about any sort of game-breaking speed or athleticism. There have been 30 40+ yard catches this season, and six players have more than one.
On pace to set personal bests in receptions and yards, he made his weekly mistake in a terrible spot. The fumble in overtime doesn’t change that he’s a serviceable tight end, nor does anything else he does catapult him near the top of the league. He’s been a tall safety valve who drops 1-2 easy balls a game. He’s 15th in receptions and yards and has more 20-yard receptions than anyone not named Gronkowski, Davis, Gates, Graham, Olsen and Witten. You’d love the guy as your No. 2 tight end, there for emergencies and on clear passing downs but not to hang out on important downs in overtime (And yes, I’m aware that you should want to trust a player on every down and that there’s no metric for clutch but if sports had no “intangibles” — a word that Stevie absolutely murdered on Sunday — sports wouldn’t be fun. Hashtag Claude Lemieux).