Stevie Johnson: Underappreciated and Overcriticized

Stevie Johnson’s time in Buffalo didn’t always receive favorable reviews, but he was better than he got credit for. (Photo: Kim Klement — USA Today Sports)

BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot

The Stevie Johnson era is over in Buffalo. The Bills traded Johnson to the San Francisco 49ers on Friday for a 2015 fourth-round pick that can be bumped up to a 3rd.

This article isn’t about the trade or how Buffalo’s offense will look without him in 2014. No, this is about one of the most underappreciated and overcriticized players in recent memory. The majority of fans were positive about Johnson, but there was a small yet vocal group of people who bashed Johnson whenever they could.

Johnson joined the Bills in 2008 as a seventh-round pick. Like most seventh-round picks, not much was expected from the Kentucky wide receiver. After his first two seasons, Johnson had 12 receptions for 112 yards and two touchdown. Now Johnson struggled to get onto the field and battled injuries, but how many chances could a seventh-rounder get? Heading into 2010, Johnson was running out of chances.

With the odds against him, Johnson won a starting job in 2010 and produced in a major way. He caught 82 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. Johnson wasn’t huge at 6’2″, he didn’t have the best hands and he wasn’t the best athlete by any stretch, but he somehow found a way to get open.

The 2010 season was Johnson’s coming out party as he had quite a few big games for the Bills. I’ll never forget Johnson’s performance that year against the Baltimore Ravens. The Bills, winless at this point, were coming off of a bye and Johnson erupted for eight receptions for 158 yards and a touchdown. Almost 20 yards per reception against one of the top defenses in the league? The wide receiver also had a great game against the Chicago Bears, but my favorite performance that season was against the Cincinnati Bengals.

At this point in time, Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson were calling themselves Batman and Robin. Johnson promised to be “The Joker,” one of the main antagonists in Batman. It was a fitting name as Johnson ruined the Bengals’ day with 8 receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns and Buffalo, who had been losing 31-14 at halftime, came back to win the game 49-31.

That should have been the moment that fans and media alike remembered from the season, but then the Pittsburgh game occurred. Johnson dropped a perfectly thrown ball in overtime that would have given the Bills a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, the ball fell to the ground and he took to Twitter for a rant that some fans never let Johnson live down.

In 2011, Johnson once again went over 1,000 yards receiving by catching 76 passes for 1,004 yards and seven touchdowns. By crossing the 1,000-yard mark in 2011, Johnson became the first Buffalo Bill to ever go above 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Let that sink in. The Bills have had some great wide receivers over the years and none of them did what Johnson did, including one wideout who is being enshrined in Canton this summer.

Johnson continued the streak of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons in 2012, catching 79 passes for 1,046 yards and 6 touchdowns. A part of me wonders if fans just came to expect 1,000 yards out of Johnson as he was so consistent. Instead of raving about his season, fans for whatever reason started turning on him. By comparing Johnson to some of the best receivers in the league, fans were quick to point out everything that those receivers could do but Johnson couldn’t.

Forget the fact that Johnson caught 237 passes in three years for more than 3,000 yards and 23 touchdowns.

He’s not Calvin Johnson. We need to get rid of this guy.

I’m paraphrasing of course, but some fans were so quick to get rid of a strong contributor just because he wasn’t one of the top receivers in the league. There’s 32 teams in the NFL, and most of them don’t have a Calvin Johnson or A.J. Green.

Despite a revolving door at quarterback, Stevie Johnson consistently produced on the field. (Photo: Kevin Hoffman — USA Today Sports)

Johnson’s 2013 season didn’t live up to his usual consistency, but he missed four games and had three different quarterbacks throwing him passes. It’s hard for anyone to thrive in that situation.

Some fans were just looking for a reason to dislike him. Yes, he once again took to Twitter and made a questionable tweet about Massachusetts. And when tragedy actually took place in Boston, some people really turned on Johnson as if his tweeting was responsible for the event.

Johnson is outspoken and will probably continue to be for the 49ers. I’m already looking forward to his inevitable Twitter battles with Richard Sherman. He wasn’t perfect on social media, but he also had a heart of gold. Every year around Christmas, Johnson gave away fantastic prizes to his fans. He was sociable. Want to interact with a professional athlete? Send Johnson some tweets. He’ll reply at some point. He wasn’t perfect off the field, but who is?

On the field, Johnson also had flaws. He had crucial drops and some frustrating penalties. He wasn’t perfect, but neither was Buffalo’s roster.

J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Brian Brohm, Levi Brown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen, EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel

Those are the quarterbacks who Johnson relied upon to get him the ball. In spite of these quarterbacks, Johnson found a way to put up consistent stats.

All Bills fans should thank Johnson for his time with the Bills. He was passionate and loyal to the fan base and on Sundays, no one gave more effort than Johnson.

Now he’s gone and Buffalo has a promising young group of wide receivers in Sammy Watkins, Mike Williams, Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin. It’s likely that one of them will now became the target of that group of fans looking to criticize the Bills and players.

Perhaps those fans will learn to appreciate the players on the team that produce and always give it their all. If not, they should be asked one question.

Why so serious?

Tags: Brian Brohm, Buffalo Bills, EJ Manuel, J.P. Losman, Jeff Tuel, Levi Brown, Marquise Goodwin, Mike Williams, Richard Sherman, Robert Woods, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sammy Watkins, San Francisco 49ers, Steve Johnson, Stevie Johnson, Thad Lewis, Trades, Trent Edwards, Tyler Thigpen, Wide Receivers

One Response to “Stevie Johnson: Underappreciated and Overcriticized”

  1. Kbomb82 says:

    Excellent work here. Stevie deserved another year to work with EJ and the Dougs. If he didn’t fit in after that I would understand the decision more than I do now. The Bills already ate a lot of his contract for this year and we have no idea if Mike Williams will work out. If Watkins does turn out to be a true #1 receiver it will soften the blow, but the reality is that potential doesn’t win games. Stevie produced for the Bills regardless of what physical limits he had, or his attitude. Making moves with the intention to move your best receiver does not indicate a true desire to win now; picking up a proven performer for a potential draft pick does. That is why the 49ers have been so successful lately.




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