Lining up on the outside, looking like a tight end and running like a track star, Calvin Johnson gives the Detroit Lions a weapon the likes of which we’ve never seen in the NFL. In 2012, he broke the league’s record for receiving yardage with a 1,964 yard campaign, firmly reinforcing the seemingly elementary fact that he’s the game’s best wide receiver.
However, as we watch him put up similarly ludicrous numbers in 2013, best wide receiver in the NFL doesn’t seem to cover it anymore for Johnson.
Calvin Johnson is the best player in the NFL.
Yes, I know of Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, J.J. Watt and Patrick Willis. I’m aware that they all are capable of domineering games and often single-handedly leading their respective teams to victory. However, Calvin Johnson has managed to affect games continually despite being entirely reliant on somebody else getting him the ball.
To physically impose your will on another team despite spending the majority of the game on an island by yourself–unless, of course, you count the two or three defenders who are tasked with stopping him on any given play–and still commanding that level of attention is almost unheard of.
The NFL has seen their share of great wide receivers (Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, etc.), but Johnson is a compilation of the best of all of them.
He knows the intricacies of the position like a Jerry Rice, often playing all three wide receiver positions during the course of the game in an effort to create mismatches. He stretches the field on the deep ball like a Randy Moss. He is an absolute bulldozer after the catch like a Terrell Owens.
The NFL is entering the golden age of X’s and O’s, and Calvin Johnson is the single biggest mismatch the league currently has to offer.
Single cover him with a smaller corner? Throw it high and watch him fly.
Pair him in the slot with a safety or a linebacker and watch helplessly as he splits the seam and waltz 80 yards into the endzone. Roll a safety over the top to help and he’ll knife your secondary with a precision route and still make a play, or, at the very least, demand enough attention to give guys like Reggie Bush and Brandon Pettigrew more open field than they know what to do with.
He’s too big to press at the line of scrimmage, too athletic and difficult to bring down in the open field to play off the line of scrimmage and too smart to even think about trying to disguise coverages altogether.
Before the Detroit Lions went on their bye last week, all this was on full display as Calvin Johnson came seven yards shy of the NFL record for receiving yards in a single game with 329. He took his real team and fantasy teams alike, and in a display of Herculean strength hoisted them onto his broad shoulders and waded through chest deep water (a.k.a. a 10-point deficit in Dallas) delivering everybody safely–with victories–on the other side.
Calvin Johnson: The Ark.
But Calvin Johnson already has a nickname. They call him Megatron, presumably because he’s a hulking piece of technology that we’ll never even begin to understand and because he’s constantly plotting the physical domination of the rest of the human race.
And through six and a half seasons, he’s done exactly that, putting up video game numbers (535 catches for 8,657 yards and 61 touchdowns). And we’re not talking about a guy who is glitching the system and just running a backside fly in a bunch set for a gajillion yards a game. Calvin Johnson is doing it while playing every wide receiver position and running every pattern on the route tree.
And, to make matters worse (or better if you’re from Detroit– God knows you need it–and you’re a Lions fan) this is a guy who is merely entering his prime. At 27, he had one of (even with the record, it’s hard to top Jerry’s 1,848 yard, 15 TD season in 1995) greatest years a wide receiver has ever had. At 28, he’s on a similar track, and he’s signed through 2020.
That makes him a Detroit Lion (where he’ll likely remain paired with gunslinger Matthew Stafford) until he’s 35, and while playing such a physical brand of football may not be conducive to longevity in this league, Johnson certainly doesn’t look like the type of specimen who wears down.
I doubt Calvin Johnson will ever be able to approach the numbers that Jerry Rice accumulated, given that Rice was an effective wide receiver into his 40s, but when it’s all said and done, it’ll be awfully difficult to keep Johnson out of the conversation for greatest wide receiver of all-time. However, in the meantime, I imagine he’d settle for the best player (regardless of position) in the NFL.
And you can certainly make a case for that.