Ten Buffalo Bills to decide 2013, No. 9: Stevie Johnson

Rick Stewart

Stevie Johnson has been a very consistent producer for three straight years now. Has he hit his career ceiling, or is the best yet to come?

Stevie Johnson has been a starting wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills for the better part of three seasons. In that time frame, he has appeared in 48 straight games and become one of the team's very small sampling of consistent performers - and done it despite suboptimal quarterback play. You'll be hard-pressed to find many receivers with as consistent a level of production as Johnson has had since 2010:

Year G Rec Yds Avg TD
2010 16 82 1,073 13.1 10
2011 16 76 1,004 13.2 7
2012 16 79 1,046 13.2 6
Average 16 79 1,041 13.2 8

Johnson emerged as a starting-caliber receiver with some star power catching passes from since-departed quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who despite his own shortcomings brought a degree of consistency to a Bills quarterback position that hadn't had any in years. Regardless of whether he's replaced by Kevin Kolb or rookie EJ Manuel in the lineup, there's no guarantee at all that Johnson will have better quarterback play in 2013 than he's had for the last three seasons.

He has also been consistently productive despite an ongoing search for a complementary option to him in the passing game. Lee Evans didn't cut it in 2010, and was traded the following summer. The team tried two former undrafted free agents (Donald Jones and David Nelson) for most of two years, with mixed-at-best results. Now, the team is trying out a trio of early-round picks - 2012 third-rounder T.J. Graham, as well as 2013 picks Robert Woods and Marquise Goodwin - to see if they can keep coverages away from Johnson. Buffalo may use Johnson in the slot more in an effort to increase his production, as well.

Increased production is, of course, the big question with Johnson, who signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract extension last March. He turns 27 years old in July; this is the prime of his career. He's learning a new offense, leads an incredibly green group of receivers and, yes, will have a new quarterback throwing him the football. Even as parts are replaced around him, the expectation will be that Johnson takes his game to another level.

It's not an unfair expectation, either. We've seen Johnson produce against some of the NFL's best cover men, including Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. Teams continually throw two and even three defenders at him to try to slow him down; it's often effective because of Buffalo's bare cupboard around him. (Hence their interest in drafting receiver talent in recent seasons.) When Johnson can be so effective against the league's elite, it's hard to swallow the idea that the average statistical season you see above is the ceiling of his potential.

There is an awful lot on Johnson's plate as he enters his sixth season with the Bills. Even maintaining his production level will be no small feat given all that's changed around him; add in his burgeoning leadership role and the expectation for bigger and better things, and there's little doubt that the team's go-to receiver is among the most important players on the team this season. Our question for you: do you believe that Johnson can take that next leap in 2013, given all of the other changes occurring?

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