Andre Johnson Is a Quark, Strangely

Nick LiljaCorrespondent INovember 6, 2008

Andre Johnson is an anomaly. A singular quark, really. Scientists don’t know what to make of him. Is he real? What flavor is he?

They think he’s Strange.

For Johnson, slowing down isn’t an option. He rarely slows down enough for the quarterback to find him—let alone defenders. He moves through zone defenses as easy as Jerry Rice. Or a German army.

At 6’3” and 223 pounds, Andre Johnson is the prototypical wide receiver. He has size, strength, and speed. He has soft hands and the most body control this side of Marvin Harrison. He’s a possession receiver trapped in a track-star’s body. Truly, his skills are as unstoppable as tomorrow.

He wasn’t born, he was wished.

To watch him play is to watch a painter transform a canvas into a masterpiece. He takes the dull and plain and makes it spectacular. A quick-slant is a 25-yard gain. A five-yard out is a 50-yard touchdown.

He’s a solar eclipse; you can’t look directly at him. Your parents tell you he’ll burn your eyes out. Maybe that’s why defenders can’t see him.

At Miami, he was MVP of the 2001 National Championship game. He caught 92 passes for 1,831 yards and 20 touchdowns in his career—good for fifth on the University of Miami's all-time career list.

But he also ran track. In 2002, he won the Big East Indoor Championship 60-meter dash in 6.83 seconds. Most people can’t yawn that fast. He also won the Big East Outdoor Championships 100-meter dash in 10.29 seconds. He won three track championships and in 2003 was the fastest man in Division-I track and field.

As Jim Murray once wrote, he could get open in a swamp.

Without Johnson, The Texans are a no-horse wagon on offense. Matt Schaub isn’t going to find Andre Davis in the corner of the end zone—he’d be covered. Even running back Steve Slaton would be ineffective on the inside without Johnson on the outside grabbing the safety’s attention.

Johnson is a star. He pulls at safeties. They can’t help but gravitate to his side of the field.

Then, on the snap of the ball, he is gone. He disappears into the wind only to materialize under the pass. The quarterback doesn’t even look for Johnson when he throws. He just guesses where Johnson might be. Not that it matters, he can catch up to any overthrow.

Johnson has wound up under the ball 60 times this season, good enough for second in the NFL. His 834 yards receiving has the Packers’ Greg Jennings beat by 80 yards. He leads the NFL with 104 reception yards per game and first downs achieved with 44.

He’s a one-man aerial assault.

He has more first-downs than Reggie Wayne has receptions. He was one catch away from being the first receiver in NFL history to catch more than 10 passes in four consecutive games.

Between the 20s, he’s such a threat that the Surgeon General should put a sticker on his helmet. He’s caught 40 balls from 655 yards. An average of five receptions for 80-yards per game. He’s like second-hand smoke. Defenders simply hold their breath and pray.

Of the 10 balls he’s caught inside the opposition’s 20, three have went for scores, six others for first downs.

Johnson can’t be single covered. Defenses should change the term man-coverage to men-coverage. Two players on Johnson—at least. A third for good measure. As it is, they run around looking over both shoulders at once with eyes like dinner plates. It can’t be healthy.

The old adage is, “You can’t catch what you can’t see.” And it explains a lot. Strange quark or not, Johnson can catch and defenders can’t see.