HOUSTON -- Radio Row is a funny place. One minute you're walking to lunch, or headed to type up a story, and the next you bump into Keyshawn Johnson, who tells you that you could probably catch 80 balls in the Patriots offense.
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That's what happened to me on Wednesday. Spotting the 6-foot-4 former No. 1 overall pick at the George R. Brown convention center, I figured it'd be a good idea to get some clarification from Johnson on something he told 92.9 “The Fan” in Atlanta last week.
“When you see guys that fail and play for other teams at the receiver position, they can go to New England and excel and everybody goes, 'Oh my God, Oh my God, these receivers are top of the game.' Well, they couldn’t excel with other teams because of the system," Johnson said at the time. "If they were on other teams right now, they probably wouldn’t be on the 53-man roster."
Johnson went on: “It is the system and it is Tom Brady. As long as they are precise and are doing everything they are supposed to do, which is the reason they are there for the Patriots, because they don’t make the mistakes, that is why they excel. You get a high caliber wide receiver with the Patriots, typically they probably aren’t going to do what they are supposed to do. They are going to freelance a little bit because they have that luxury to do that because of their ability.”
When I approached Johnson and told him his comments got some play in the New England area, he acknowledged that he'd heard from Patriots fans who were displeased with his assessment of guys like Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell.
Still, he was open to taking a few questions. It was a topic he obviously felt passionately about, and that came through in our conversation. Here was the back-and-forth, edited for clarity.
Do you really feel like these Patriots receivers probably wouldn't make 53-man rosters on other teams?
KJ: "That's not what I said. I said it would be very hard for them to make a 53-man roster given their skill set. They are in a system They're in a system that works for their skill set, who they are. There's nothing wrong with that. I don't understand. What do they want me to say? They're just as good as Julio Jones? Like, c'mon. Stop."
But the implication is that Tom Brady is the reason these guys . . .
KJ: "It is! It is Tom Brady! Stop! Whatever. You guys are crazy. It's Josh McDaniels, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. You guys are fools if you think it's anything different."
So Julian Edelman wouldn't have success on another roster?
KJ: "Julian Edelman would probably be the one guy out of all those guys that would have the success. There's no question about that. And he's only been in New England's system. He hasn't been in other places to judge that . . . Hogan, man? Stop. Amendola? Stop. What I'm saying is, they're good receivers. But don't try to make them out into . . . One time they kept saying, 'Oh, Wes Welker's on his way to a Hall of Fame career.' Man, stop it. Ya'll need to stop that."
Should that be taken as a derogatory comment, that these guys owe their success to the system?
KJ: "It's not a derogatory thing. That's what ya'll made it out to be. The media. I just said, if they were in another system, it'd be different. Because when they've been in other systems, it's been different. It's not something that, all of a sudden, they became really great wide receivers. Wes Welker was OK. He was a guy. He was one of two guys. He wasn't anything to brag on. And he was so good that the Patriots said goodbye."
Hogan has made a lot of big plays for this offense, though. He's athletic. He's been able to run through coverages.
KJ: "Every time Chris Hogan catches a ball, it's a play-action pass. The defense is sneaking up looking to play the run and he slips behind them. He's not just flat-out beating guys. Julian Edelman sometimes flat-out beats guys. No matter how fast [Hogan] is, his route-running and stuff like that is not . . . Come on, man. Chris Hogan got drafted where he got drafted for a reason. For a reason."
He wasn't drafted. But he was primarily a college lacrosse player and then only played in college for a year.
KJ: "There you go. That was [undrafted] for a reason though. They still saw him and worked him out."
He led the league in yards per catch this year, though. Does he get credit for that? He had better numbers than Julio Jones in that regard.
KJ: "Ask the New England Patriots if they'd rather have Julio Jones or Chris Hogan."
So if it's all Brady and the system, could I catch 80 balls in this offense right now?
KJ: "I could probably turn you into a guy that would catch 80 balls. I'm serious."
Could you catch 80 balls in this offense right now?
KJ: "I wish I could. But it is Tom Brady and the system. Every receiver that plays those slot spots for them turn out to do well. They all do."