After 12 seasons with the Houston Texans, Andre Johnson was unceremoniously cut as free agency began. Despite being the best player in franchise history, the current regime did not want to keep him with a $16.1 million cap figure. But Johnson was not out of work long, as the division rival Indianapolis Colts scooped him up with a three-year, $21 million deal. He’ll become one of the top targets for star quarterback Andrew Luck.

The Colts are hoping a hungry, vengeful Johnson can be one of the missing links for a team that again should be in the hunt for a Super Bowl. From what he showed on the field last year, the veteran wideout is up to that task.

Despite being 33 years old and recording less than 1,000 receiving yards in 2014, Andre Johnson is far from finished. The former No. 3 overall pick can still play a crucial role in an NFL passing attack. In the eight games sampled for this Reception Perception study, which evaluates eight games (the four best and worst statistically) of a wide receiver’s performance to create an accurate assessment size, Johnson played a majority of his snaps at the all-important X-receiver position. He played on the left side of the formation 48.1 percent of the time and was on the line of scrimmage on 79.1 percent of his snaps. However, Johnson was not limited to just one role. He also played a bit of flanker, and in the slot (16 percent of his snaps), for the Texans in 2014.

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Perhaps not so coincidentally, in recent years the Colts used the recently departed Reggie Wayne in the exact same fashion. Wayne was often an outlet receiver for the developing Luck. While he lined up in multiple positions, like Wayne, Johnson did not play the safety-blanket role during his swan song season in Houston.

Fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout season last year for Houston, but it was Johnson who paced the Texans’ passing attack:

A “30.9 percent of routes with a target” figure is indicative of a high-volume pass catcher. Johnson enjoyed a large share of the offensive pie in Houston last season. However, he only caught passes on just more than 50 percent of his targets over the eight-game sample. Johnson had a low drop rate, which seems to indicate he was not to blame for any lack of production.

The Texans asked Johnson to be a complete receiver. His route chart is fairly balanced, although three patterns stand out with higher frequencies than the rest. Out of 278 routes over this Reception Perception eight-game sample, Johnson ran a slant (16.9 percent), post (18 percent) or nine-route (16.2 percent) most often. Hewas still asked to run the full route tree, and the Texans did little to nothing to account for a change in his skill set because of his age.

Despite being asked to run a nine-route on 16.2 percent of his 278 routes, Johnson was largely ineffective in this regard. He no longer has the dazzling speed, for a 6-foot-3, 230-pound, player, that made him such a high draft pick many years ago. This is reflected in his poor 37.8 percent SRVC on straight vertical routes. While he posted a healthy 68 percent SRVC on posts, it was clear on the routes where he lost that Johnson’s quickness has been slightly compromised.

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The Texans did not accordingly adjust their utilization plan, but like many great receivers, Johnson has altered his game to negate his physical decline. He’s become a pristine route runner, especially on underneath patterns. Johnson had good SRVC scores on slant, flat and screen routes, and created production (41.1 PTS) on these patterns, as well. It helps that he’s still very good after the catch, breaking at least one tackle on 42.8 percent of his in space attempts. It’s odd that Houston did not have him run more short and intermediate patterns.

Johnson’s true value to the Colts will lie with the physical play he’ll bring to their offense. While T.Y. Hilton is an excellent player, Luck has yet to play with a big wide receiver who can win the ball in the air when dealing physical coverage. In addition to Johnson’s 84.6 percent and 88.5 percent SRVC scores on comebacks and curls, respectively, he was efficient when attempting to bring down contested catches, which is when a receiver is well covered by a cornerback who is playing them physically, yet still hauls in the pass. These 55 passes are difficult to snag and require a true integration of timing, strength and vertical athletic ability to handle. Johnson showed will in this category, converting 76.5 percent of his contested catch chances over the eight-game sample.

Supplement this with his still strong ability to get open, and Johnson is still an excellent wide receiver:

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It appears that poor usage and bad quarterback play were to blame for Johnson’s lower catch rate and statistical drop-off in 2014. His age was a factor, but he demonstrated knowledge of that and how to excel in spite of it. Now with the Colts, Johnson has a staggering upgrade at quarterback. Given that they rushed out to acquire him, it stands to reason his new team understands where Johnson’s true value now lies — an underneath, reliable and physical tone-setting receiver. We’ve seen Anquan Boldin morph into this player and assist two different quarterbacks late in his career. Now Johnson appears to be next in line.

Johnson never seemed settled with how his final year played out in Houston, or his release by the only NFL team he’s known. His Reception Perception data indicates he’ll be making them pay for that decision two times a year now. Expect a big season from this player, as the Colts look to make Super Bowl run in 2015.

Matt Harmon wrote the book on NFL receivers, literally, and writes about draft prospects at Footballguys.com. Follow him on Twitter (@MattHarmon_BYB) and keep up with his analysis using the hashtag #ReceptionPerception.

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