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Texans' Johnson in the mold of former Bills WR

Andre Johnson is the reason former Buffalo Bills standout Eric Moulds picked the Houston Texans over the Philadelphia Eagles.

"Andre wanted me here, so I made my decision," Moulds said last April after brokering a deal with Houston following 10 productive years in Buffalo. "I always wanted to play with him. He's an up-and-coming receiver."

Obviously, Moulds can pick 'em as well as he once could catch 'em.

Johnson, who leads the NFL in receptions with 85 catches for 991 yards and five touchdowns, is looking an awful lot like Moulds in his heyday.

And that's saying something when you're dealing with the Texans. Since joining the league in 2002, Houston hasn't exactly been pumping out primo fantasy prospects.

Running back Domanick Davis, who sat out this season with a knee injury, has had a couple of decent seasons but the Texans' passing game -- primarily because of their inability to protect quarterback David Carr -- has never been a hot commodity.

That's changed, thanks to Johnson.

He will likely become the first Texan to reach triple digits in catches, like Moulds became the first Bill with 100 receptions for 1,287 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2002. That was one of two seasons Moulds ranked fourth in fantasy value among receivers, according to the Web site pro-football-reference.com. He was also fourth in 1998 (67 catches, 1,368 yards, 9 TDs). Moulds also went to the Pro Bowl in 2000, when he had 94 receptions. The same Web site ranks Johnson sixth in fantasy value at his position this season, which is probably a lot higher than we had him on our preseason draft lists. He had never finished higher than 22nd in that ranking during his first three seasons.

There are probably a couple of very valid reasons Johnson was undervalued back in August.

The first is that Carr has spent so much time on his rear end during his first five seasons that it was tough to take any of his targets seriously. Try 242 sacks in 72 career games, an average of 3.36 per contest.

To put that figure in perspective, think back to the days when Bills fans got their jollies by booing Drew Bledsoe. In 48 games in a Buffalo uniform, Bledsoe was dumped 140 times, or 2.92 times per game. Carr's rate is closer to Rob Johnson's: He was dumped 110 times in 30 games (3.67 per) with the Bills.

Perhaps Carr has learned to release the ball more quickly. Maybe his offensive line is really doing a better job. Or it could be his relationship with first-year head coach Gary Kubiak, who learned his trade as a backup to John Elway as a player with the Denver Broncos and also tutored Steve Young as a San Francisco 49ers assistant in 1994, an MVP season for Young.

Whatever the reason, Carr's sack rate is down to 2.83 (34 tackles in 12 games) this year. If he's using that extra time to focus in on Andre Johnson, it's been time well-spent.

"Andre Johnson says nothing, but automatically he's a leader of this football team because he can make plays and guys respond to that," Carr recently told the Houston Chronicle.

The other reason Johnson may have flown under the radar is because of a calf injury suffered in early October 2005 that kept him out of three games last season and just wouldn't heal.

He had 63 receptions for 688 yards and two scores last year, a big dip from 7 9/1 ,14 2/6 in 2004, numbers that earned him the first trip to the Pro Bowl for any Texans offensive player.

The third overall selection from the 2003 draft has caught at least one pass in all but one of his 57 career games including his first 35. That streak ended against the Tennessee Titans last year on the day he suffered his injury.

He's caught six or more passes nine times this year and has been particularly reliable in Reliant Stadium, where the Texans host the Titans on Sunday. In his first five home games he's caught 40 balls for 536 yards and two scores, cracking the century mark in receiving yardage on four occasions.

Also, don't underestimate the value of Moulds, who at 33 is eight years Johnson's senior. Moulds, who learned from Andre Reed and Quinn Early during his first two seasons, had 159 catches for 2,590 yards and 16 TDs after 57 games. Johnson's totals: 293 catches, 3,797 yards, 17 TDs. If Johnson progresses close to Moulds' rate, he'll be a gem for years to come.

e-mail: tborrelli@buffnews.com

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