Faceoff: Calvin Johnson

August 4th

Chris Smith: Calvin Johnson is as talented and athletic as any receiver in the NFL past or present. His incredible size/speed/talent ratio is almost unheard of at the NFL position. He struggled in his 1st and 3rd NFL season but had an unbelievable sophomore campaign in the NFL that really showcased just how good he can be with decent team play around him. Even with all the team and his own struggles last year, he still finished as a top-twenty fantasy receiver. He is capable of much more and will go back to his sensational 2008 numbers this campaign.

Reasons for hope in 2010

  1. Unbelievable skill set: It is almost criminal that he has that mix of size, speed, quickness and talent. He is almost unstoppable with a decent team around him and he is still just coming into the prime of his career. At just 25-years of age this season, he is at the age that many receivers first begin to emerge in the NFL. He has the potential to be a 100-reception / 1500 yard and 15 touchdown player.
  2. Improvement on offense for the Lions: Don't look now but the lovable, loser Lions are beginning to get some talent assembled on offense. The offensive line still has some question marks but the talent is there to improve this season. There is enough talent at RB, TE and the other receiver positions to force defenses to play more honest this season and not focus solely on shutting down the talents of Johnson. If 2nd-year quarterback Matthew Stafford can continue to improve, Johnson has every opportunity to be the top fantasy receiver in the game today. The two players had some chemistry and if it wasn't for injuries striking may have been firing on all cylinders by the end of the season.

Last Word

There is no denying the natural ability of Calvin Johnson. I guess it comes down to whether or not you believe Matthew Stafford can elevate his play and the new additions in Detroit such as WR Nate Burleson, TE Tony Scheffler and rookie RB Jahvid Best can take the pressure off of Calvin Johnson and keep defenses honest. I believe the Lions have done a very good job this off-season and that Johnson will have his finest numbers to date.

Jeff Haseley: Johnson had a disappointing season in 2009 after having a breakout year the year prior. He missed two games with an injury, but that wasn't the main reason for his lackluster performance that only saw him reach 67 catches on 137 targets for 984 yards and 5 TDs. Rookie QB Matthew Stafford had difficulty getting him the ball and Johnson had equal problems catching his passes. It was far-fetched to think a rookie QB could come in and have success off the bat behind a poor OL on an offense that was one-dimensional. Stafford's 20 INTs in 2009 meant fewer scoring chances, which limited Johnson's production. He was the third ranked WR in 2008 when the Lions failed to win a single game; however a year later, he dropped out of the Top 20. Perhaps his 2008 performance was due to teams allowing yards and scores in garbage time when the game was clearly out of reach?

Improvement is expected in 2010, but will it be enough to warrant a second round pick as the 5th WR off the board? The pieces are in place for the Lions to emerge as a better offense, but will they be good enough to elevate Johnson's game to an elite WR in the league? Matthew Stafford found himself throwing a lot of passes in Johnson's direction last year, but he often was hurried, rushed or flushed out of the pocket, which decreased his accuracy. The Lions have improved their OL, but Stafford is still in a learning phase in his career, that might keep Johnson from being an elite WR in the NFL. In order for Johnson to reach a Top 10 finish, Stafford will have to make huge strides. So far with Stafford at QB, Johnson's reception % and yards per catch have taken a nose dive.

When I choose my WR1 for my fantasy team I generally want to look at the whole picture, not just the talent and potential of the WR in question.

  1. How has this WR done in the past?
  2. How successful has his QB been recently?
  3. Is he a member of a high-scoring offense?

With Johnson, there are a lot of questions and uncertainties when looking at the criteria above. For me it's too big of a risk to select him as my WR1. This is a passing league, where successful WRs come from high scoring offenses with productive QBs. Look at the Top 10 WRs from last year. Eight out of ten came from a high-scoring offense with a better than average QB. Roddy White (7th) and Brandon Marshall (9th) were the only WRs who defied the norm of the above criteria. Two out of ten WRs did not come from a top flight offense or successful QB. That's enough for me to look in a different direction.

I think Johnson is one heck of a WR, but there are too many reasons for me to justify selecting him as my WR1. Someone else can make that decision and hope for the best. I would rather make an educated, stats-driven and results-driven choice that has a higher percentage of success than the situation that presents itself for Calvin Johnson. Unless you think Matthew Stafford will improve dramatically, you can't have serious thoughts about Johnson finishing in the Top 10, which is where he is being drafted.