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Spotlight: Calvin Johnson

posted by Chris Smith on Jul 8th

Chris Smith's thoughts

Last season Calvin Johnson was unstoppable.

How unstoppable?

Calvin Johnson racked up 96 receptions for 1681 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. Those lofty statistics put him 4th all-time in regards to single season fantasy points amongst receivers, trailing behind only Jerry Rice and Randy Moss (twice). His 1681 receiving yards ranked 7th all-time and his 16 touchdown receptions tied for 5th best all-time. That my friends is an outstanding fantasy season no matter how you slice it.


A Megatron Amongst Humans

There are players who clearly have a step up on the other players at their positions due to size, talent, athleticism, brains or all of the above. Calvin Johnson is without question one of those gifted players. At 6-5 and 235 pounds he is clearly too big for the smaller defensive backs to match up against while battling for the football and his size enables him to shuck tackles like he is a brawny fullback in the backfield. Impressively with that advantage of size however is that Johnson doesn't lose any speed going up against the smaller defenders. He can run like an elite sprinter and has surprising quickness for a big-body receiver. His nickname is 'Megatron' which comes from the Transformers realm and it truly is a perfect name for his skills almost seem to be super-human at times on the football field.

An Elite, Young Quarterback In Matthew Stafford

Aside from his amazing skill set, another reason to be excited about Calvin Johnson every season is his relationship with talented, young quarterback Matthew Stafford who quietly put together one of the all-time best seasons at quarterback. Stafford and Johnson are on the same page and have the chemistry on the football field that is reminiscent of Montana-Rice, Brady-Moss and Marino-Clayton. At just 24-years of age, Stafford is only going to get better going forward.

Past History does prove elite receivers can continue at their high level

Calvin Johnson is one of the rare special talents that show up every generation in sports. Identifying similar players over the past thirty years is relatively easy to do. The parallels to him include players such as Randy Moss, Jerry Rice, Sterling Sharpe, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald and Marvin Harrison.

  • Jerry Rice had nine seasons ranked in the top-100 all-time including six top-12 seasons
  • Larry Fitzgerald had three top-100 all-time seasons over four-year span
  • Sterling Sharpe had four top-100 seasons (including three top-40) over five-year span
  • Marvin Harrison had four straight top-30 all-time seasons
  • Randy Moss had four seasons ranked inside the top-25 all-time
  • Terrell Owens had seven seasons ranked inside the top-100 all-time

The above information showcases that 'elite' talent players are all capable of performing at a high level year after year. Sure Calvin Johnson may see him stats dip somewhat from his lofty 2011 totals but Jerry Rice followed his 86 receptions for 1570 yards and 15 touchdown performance in 1986 (5th best all-time) with an equally amazing 65 receptions for 1078 yards and 22 touchdowns (over just 12 games) in 1987. Rice dropped to more human numbers in 1988 (still 73rd best all-time) before rising back up to 7th best all-time in 1989 which illustrates that top-level receivers at the NFL do not have to see their numbers fall just because they put together tremendous seasons.


  • Freakish blend of size, speed, talent and tenacity
  • Tremendous on field chemistry with 24-year old superstar quarterback Matthew Stafford
  • Johnson is entering into the prime of his professional career


  • Stafford has struggled with injuries in the past
  • Lack of a strong WR2 in Detroit allows defenses to key on Johnson
  • Johnson has struggled somewhat with consistency season to season over his five years (ranked 35th, 3rd, 21st, 6th and 1st over his career)

Final thoughts

Calvin Johnson is a transforming, large, steel robot sent from across the universe to help save the human race from the evil Deceptacons. Well, alright, maybe that is going a little too far but Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson is a huge, athletic talented receiver just heading into the prime of his NFL career. He is almost uncoverable in single coverage and even breaks double coverage often on game day. He is coming off a monster season and that is a sign of things to come, not a one and done accomplishment. With young quarterback Matthew Stafford also improving and becoming a legendary player for the Lions; Johnson will put up monster statistics once again in 2012.

Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Grahamburn said:

I'm a firm believer in regression after a huge season unless that player is Calvin Johnson. He's simply unstoppable, and the Lions haven't made any significant changes to suggest that their offensive philosophy is changing in any way.

Calvin really started to dominate even more than he had been earlier in the year during those final 4 games of the Lions' season. He had 36 receptions, 771 yards, and 6 TDs in just those games. 3 of them over 200 yards. That production isn't sustainable, but it seemed like Calvin and Stafford took it to another level at the end of the year.

How much of that will carry over into 2012?

Jerry Rice's single season yardage record is 1,848. Calvin would need to average 115.6 yards per game to break it. I wouldn't be surprised to see it fall.

David Yudkin ( Staff Writer) said:

My concern looking at history is that receivers coming off of uber seasons almost always take a decent step back. Since 1960, Megatron was the 34th receiver to score 225 fantasy points. Only Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison had seasons where they did better the next year. Only Rice, Harrison, and Owens had a follow up season within 20 points of the year before. WR on average have lost 25% of their fantasy production the following season.

I am not going suggest that Johnson will take a step back this year simple because that's what the numbers seem to indicate. I do think he may end up in the Rice / Harrison / Owens class. But even Randy Moss normally had follow up numbers that were not in that same strata.

Even with a drop off, Johnson could still be a true stud at WR, but I have seen him going around the Top 5 overall. At that price, he almost HAS to have a repeat of last year (or close to it).

It's great that people are suggesting that the sky is the limit for Johnson, but there are only so many times the Lions can throw the football. Detroit threw 666 passes last I will take the under for this year.

I don't know what teams did differently mid season last year, as Johnson had a great start and a great finish but for a month or so in the middle he was human.

There may not be kryptonite to be found, but if there is a concern it's that TD numbers are the hardest thing to repeat. I will go with 85-1400-11.

TheDirtyWord said:

Johnson may be the most physically gifted WR to ever play - I'm making an all inclusive statement. On top of that, you don't need to use the words moody or mercurial to describe him. So long as he stays healthy, he is the clear cut #1 player at his position, a distinction no other player can lay absolute and unanimous claim to. The question simply is - how high can he go?

For instance, in Megatron's last 4 games (including his playoff performance against NO), Johnson put up a ridiculous 36/771/6 line. For ishnet and giggles, that projects out to a 144/3084/24 line over 16 games! Has anyone ever done this? Come close? Oh...and he did this with a 70% catch rate. In 2011 overall, he had six 2 TD games. The prevailing school of thought is that the Lions need someone to emerge across from Megatron, but my question is why? Noone can cover him seems that no two people can cover him when he's on. And with another year of synergy between him and Stafford not to mention the guy only turns 27 this season and thus is in the midst of his physical prime...could we be looking at the first 2000 yard season for a WR in NFL history? I mean, he put up close to 1700 yards when he went through a 5 game stretch where he averaged but 63.6 YPG. If he can eliminate such a lull...isn't 2000 possible?

I don't know if I'm willing to go there. But, I can see a scenario where Megatron outdoes himself. A lot of folks are counting on Titus Young to emerge and he may indeed do so. But this is also an offense that provided Brandon Pettigrew 126 targets. Nate Burleson was solid for the Lions as well. But at the end of the day, Megatron was only targeted on 24.1% of the Lions pass attempts. Of the 14 WR's that finished with at least 1100 receiving yards, that ranked a middle of the pack 7th...and the WR's below him were largely featured in dual threat or distributed passing attacks (NO, GB, PIT, NYG). So I think there is room for Johnson to grow here, but I also suspect that Stafford won't approach 663 pass attempts although 625 seems reasonable given the Lions personnel. So Megatron could still be in line for 175-180 targets if the Lions decide to target him with even more abandon which in reality, you really couldn't accuse them of last season despite Megatron's prodigious numbers. With a 65% catch rate, which would represent an increase over 2011...115-120 receptions is within reach.

The above analysis probably represents top end numbers, but like I said before...I don't think the NFL has ever seen a talent like Megatron and with Stafford and his own maturation as a player - I think the only thing that can hold him back is an injury. Given the positional advantage he could potentially provide, an argument could be made for him as the #1 overall pick for such a swashbuckling owner.

Calvin Johnson projections

Chris Smith9216001500
Message board consensus9515341400