Steve Johnson of the Buffalo Bills Must Mature to Reach Full Potential

Greg Maiola@Gom1094Senior Analyst IIJanuary 19, 2013

The days of diva receivers owning the NFL are all but over.

Chad Ochocinco, excuse me, Chad Johnson, is out of the league, probably forever. Former Buffalo Bills receiver Terrell Owens' days are over, meaning the media will have to find a new source of consistent player controversy. Randy Moss is still playing, but he is focused on his job and isn't as attention starved as he was in his youth.

For as much negative publicity as these players brought to their teams, they were all able to produce at a high level. However, they burned through a number of teams and leave behind a legacy where their antics might overshadow their production.

So here is where Steve Johnson gets called out.

Sure, Johnson was the first player in Bills history to have consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, which he has stretched to three consecutive seasons. That is impressive considering that Andre Reed, Eric Moulds and Lee Evans thrived in Buffalo.

Johnson was a feel-good story in 2010, when the seventh-round draft pick recorded 82 receptions for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns. But this feel-good story is no longer the case.

The talent, physical ability and athleticism are all there for Johnson. If he can burn Darrelle Revis on a consistent basis, then Johnson can became an elite NFL receiver. But what gets in his way isn't necessarily a superior defender.


Heck, the problem isn't even the erratic play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (well, maybe).

Johnson's biggest problem is how he conducts himself in such poor fashion.

Before Johnson's actions are broken down, let's look at some of the best receivers in recent NFL history.

Marvin Harrison never made a peep and quietly had a 13-year career with 1,102 receptions, 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. He never drew attention to himself, even when he had a record 143 receptions in 2002.

Harrison's former teammate Reggie Wayne is similar in that he has never let his emotions get the best of him or act immaturely. In 12 seasons, Wayne has 968 receptions, 13,063 yards, 78 touchdowns and six Pro Bowl appearances.

Wayne's college teammate Andre Johnson may be a top-two receiver in today's NFL and conducts himself just as respectfully as Harrison and Wayne. Johnson has six career Pro Bowls and career numbers of 818 receptions, 11,254 yards and 77 touchdowns in 10 seasons.

Larry Fitzgerald is one of the most physically gifted receivers to play the game and was a major contributor to the Arizona Cardinals' Super Bowl run in 2009. He is a major humanitarian and has career numbers of 764 receptions, 10,413 yards and 78 touchdowns in nine seasons.


These players combine for 26 Pro Bowls and far less negative publicity than Johnson. These players have strong Hall of Fame cases and behave with honor and pride.

Johnson isn't in the same class as Wayne, Andrew Johnson and Fitzgerald and is not even close to Harrison's status, yet he acts like he's on his way to Canton.

Let's look at his antics.

On September 26, 2010, Johnson scored on a 37-yard touchdown against the New England Patriots. Rather than stay humble and savor the moment, he acted like he owned the place.

He pretended to shoot a shotgun and fall to the ground. poking fun at the New England minutemen in Gillette Stadium. It's all fun and games for him...and an unsportsmanlike penalty and bad publicity for Buffalo.

Plus a $10,000 fine.

On November 21, 2010, Johnson scored a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bengals. He wanted to make fun of Owens and Chad Johnson, who he is obviously better than. He revealed a "Why So Serious" shirt from under his jersey, and the NFL revealed a $5,000 fine.

Johnson still wasn't done that season.

On November 28, 2010, just one week after the incident in Cincinnati, Johnson and the Bills hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bills played phenomenal and forced overtime against Pittsburgh. Fitzpatrick lobbed a beautiful pass to Johnson, who let the 40-yard bomb and victory slip through his hands in the end zone.

That happens from time to time, especially for a developing player. It could have been used as a great motivator and learning experience for the young receiver. The Steelers were 8-3 after the victory and Buffalo was 2-9, so it didn't necessarily break the season.

But Johnson's actions after the game were completely unacceptable. He infamously turned to Twitter and tweeted:


Johnson blaming God on Twitter after the game caused a scenario that went viral, obviously for the wrong reasons.

And all of these antics were just in 2010.

On November 27, 2011, Johnson scored a touchdown in New York and mocked Jets receiver Plaxico Burress by pretending to shoot himself in the thigh.

Tasteless and controversial? Absolutely.

Did Johnson and Buffalo get bad publicity? Absolutely.


Was it expensive?

Absolutely. Another $10,000 fine was levied on Johnson. Some believed the fine should have been more costly.

On January 1, 2012, Johnson crossed the line again. He knew that coach Chan Gailey was disgusted with his conduct after scoring.

But apparently Johnson has no self-control.

He scored a first-quarter touchdown and revealed a "Happy New Year" shirt under his jersey, drawing an excessive celebration penalty and earning him a spot on the bench for the rest of the game.

All of this garbage performed by Johnson finally put Gailey over the edge in that New Year's game. Johnson's contract was up after the game, and many believed it was Johnson's last straw.

Even Johnson thought he was done in Buffalo.

As we all know, Johnson was retained in 2012 and had another 1,000-yard season. Though there were no fines or excessive celebrations, Johnson's behavior still wasn't respectable.

Johnson had a miserable Week 16 performance against the Miami Dolphins with a number of drops and a fumble. He even went nuts on a side official.


The big star once again conducted himself in poor fashion. It took a role player to call out Johnson and put him in his place.

After the game, Tashard Choice said to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News:

"With him being a leader on this team, he has to sometimes keep himself cool for the betterment of the team. He can drop 10 balls, but he still has to be uplifting because other guys look to him."

Johnson's sulking and poor conduct even got to his teammates, and Choice was justified in talking about him to the media.

Johnson has even publicly complained about the play-calling, taking something that should be internal to the national stage.

Even Johnson realizes that he needs to step up as a leader. After the season, he said this, according to Tim Graham of The Buffalo News:

"In the position I'm in, I realize everybody's looking at me as a leader. Just the whole mindset of being on the sideline and getting at these guys...That presence needs to be felt a little more."

There is no question that Johnson is a tremendous, explosive athlete. His three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons prove that he can be a true offensive threat in this league.

However, in order for Johnson to reach the next level—the level of Wayne, Andre Johnson and Fitzgerald—he needs to stop the circus.


The excessive celebrations need to end. Of course, Johnson deserves to have some fun after reaching the end zone.

He is living the life that millions of people dream of, and he should have fun done doing so. But having fun should not come at the expense of the team or other players, especially when those other players have accomplished more than Johnson.

He also needs to improve his conduct, and he knows that. To become a leader, one must develop into a strong and grounded individual. Johnson needs to work on that phase of his life because he is the face of the receiving corps.

Johnson is a playmaker who is improving every season. If he wants to develop into an elite player, he needs to focus on his job and cut out the distractions.

The solution is simple because Johnson has the talent to become great. If he comes to work every day, puts the team above himself and stops drawing unnecessary attention, he will join the ranks of Wayne, Andre Johnson and Fitzgerald.


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