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Player Spotlight: Calvin Johnson

A detailed look at Calvin Johnson' fantasy prospects for 2013


Inarguably the NFL's best nickname, Megatron -- aka Calvin Johnson -- proved last year that he's no longer among the top players at his position, he is the league's top receiver. He's alone atop the pedestal. 

  • 122 receptions (#1 in the NFL)
  • 1,964 yards (#1 in the NFL, and #1 ALL TIME)
  • 16.1 yards per reception
  • 5 TD receptions (we'll get back to this in a second)
  • Eleven (11) 100-yard games, including two 200-yard games
  • #1 in receptions at least 20 yards down field
  • #1 fantasy receiver (for the 2nd consecutive season)

You don't need me to tell you Calvin Johnson is a fantasy asset. Based on his current ADP (5th overall), he's the first non-RB being drated in nearly every league, and there's no credible reason to argue against that. While skeptics could argue that year-end rankings differ from year to year, that doesn't change the fact that Calvin Johnson projects as the most likely receiver to finish atop the fantasy rankings. 

regression to the mean works both directionS

I've seen some fantasy owners talk themselves out of Calvin Johnson in the first round for fear that he'll suffer regression. As someone that uses statistics on a daily basis, I cringe when the concept of regression is thrown around so lazily. Yes, history argues that Johnson won't come close to matching last year's 1,964 yards. But it also argues that Johnson will far exceed last year's 5 receiving TDs!

The Yin - his receiving yardS

Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice's single-season record last year with 1,964 yards. It stands to reason that it's unlikely Johnson will match last year's mark again. That's different than saying it's impossible, but fantasy analysis is about playing the odds and any handicapper understands that "best ever" is a hard bogey to hit in back-to-back seasons.

Top 10 receiving seasons, NFL history

RankFirstLastYearYardsYear N+1Yards% Change
1 Calvin Johnson 2012 1,964 2013 TBD N/A
2 Jerry Rice 1995 1,848 1996 1,254 -32%
3 Isaac Bruce 1995 1,781 1996 1,338 -25%
4 Charley Hennigan 1961 1,746 1962 867 -50%
5 Marvin Harrison 2002 1,722 2003 1,272 -26%
6 Torry Holt 2003 1,696 2004 1,372 -19%
7 Herman Moore 1995 1,686 1996 1,296 -23%
8 Calvin Johnson 2011 1,681 2012 1,964 17%
9 Marvin Harrison 1999 1,663 2000 1,413 -15%
10 Jimmy Smith 1999 1,636 2000 1,213 -26%


Did you know Calvin Johnson was tackled inside the 5-yard line EIGHT TIMES last year? That's an anomaly if there ever was one. The simple fact is it's VERY HARD for someone to catch 122 passes and only score 5 touchdowns. And Johnson's 2012 TD rate is in stark contrast to his prior seasons.

YearRecsTDsTD Rate
2007 48 4 8.3%
2008 78 12 15.4%
2009 67 5 7.5%
2010 77 12 15.6%
2011 96 16 16.7%
2012 122 5 4.1%

Johnson's TD rate last year was roughly 50% of his prior season-worst, and 1/4th of the rate we've seen him produce in 2010 and 2011. Even if Johnson's receptions fall by 20% this year, but his TD rate normalizes, he could be looking at a season of:

  • 98 receptions
  • 1,571 yards (16.1 yards per catch -- his career average)
  • 12 TDs (12.7% TD rate, his career average prior to last season)
That's his likely FLOOR in a healthy 16-game season.


  • He's the most talented receiver in the league, combining the rarest of physical gifts with a 'My Ball' mentality that hasn't been seen since Randy Moss in his prime
  • The Lions have averaged more than 680 pass attempts over the last two seasons, and show no signs of slowing down
  • Johnson was stopped eight times inside the 5-yard line, he's an excellent bet to regress (meaning move higher) and score quite a few more touchdowns this year


  • The Lions offensive line has to keep Matthew Stafford upright
  • Johnson has played through injuries, but a concussion and broken fingers can't be forgotten because a recurrence might mean significant missed time
  • The team is hoping to find complementary receivers, which could mean a slight down tick in Johnson's targets


There is very little I can tell you about Calvin Johnson that you don't already know. He is the best player at his position and in his prime. He crushed Jerry Rice's unbreakable record and looked effortless in the process. Meanwhile, we have since found out he was hurt (broken fingers) for most of the season. Amazing. He is coming off the board in the first round of every draft, and should. Ultimately you have to decide if Johnson is good enough to take and thus pass on the RB position early. The data argues emphatically in favor of that decision.


David Dodds 16 2 14 7.0 0 103 1679 16.3 10 229
Bob Henry 15 2 20 10.0 0 100 1630 16.3 10 225
Jason Wood 16 0 0 0.0  0 105 1750 16.7 12 247
Maurile Tremblay 16 4 22 5.5 0 111 1681 15.1 6 206


James LeBeau of CraveOnline discussed Calvin Johnson't three goals for 2013:

As well as setting his goals for the 2013 season, Johnson also let it be known that he played much of the 2012 campaign with some broken fingers. While this admission has not been substantiated by the Lions, it wouldn't be the first time they have tried to cover up injuries sustained by Johnson.

Last fall Johnson said he suffered a concussion in a September loss to the Vikings and nerve damage that made it tough for him to grip the ball. The next day, Detroit issued a statement denying those injuries and another statement from Johnson retracting his comments.

While this in no way impacts his value heading into next season, it should be noted that if he put up those insane numbers with injured fingers, how much could he have done healthy? If you are drafting late in the first round, you could do worse than snagging Johnson. Johnson is as consistent as any star in the league and consistency is a valuable commodity in fantasy football.

JJ Zachariason of believes Calvin Johnson is going to late in drafts:

If we value Calvin Johnson the way his numbers tell us to, then there should be little doubt that he’s a top-half first round selection. Even though the wide receiver pool is insanely deep, there’s something to be said about a receiver who finished in the weekly top-12 eight times last season (excluding Week 17). And because the drop off at running back appears to occur in the beginning of Round 3, you may be able to afford an early-first round choice on the Lions’ receiver.

The staff debates who should be the 3rd player off the board, with Calvin Johnson getting serious consideration:

Adam Harstad: I'm really low on Foster this year when compared to the consensus, so I like the 3rd pick better than the 2nd pick. Calvin has topped 100 VBD in back-to-back seasons in both PPR and non-PPR. He is also due some monster touchdown regression after averaging the fourth-fewest touchdowns per yard of any 1200+ yard receiver in history (an especially shocking outcome from a player with such a strong history of TD production). He pairs huge upside with a tremendous floor, and I'd pick him after Peterson in all formats. It's rare for a WR to make a strong case for a top-3 pick, but Calvin Johnson is a rare WR.