There isn’t a more athletically gifted receiver in the game than Calvin Johnson. At 6-foot-5 and 235lbs, Johnson is bigger, stronger, and in most cases faster player than those trying to cover him. That’s the holy trinity of unfair advantage and it all resulted in him beating up on coverage units seemingly at will last season.
Johnson topped our receiver ranking by a distance from Larry Fitzgerald, and when playoff games are included (even though Johnson played in just one) he only increases his gap over the field. If you include that playoff game, Johnson racked up almost 1,900 yards last season and 18 touchdowns, and did it all while averaging 17.6 yards per reception. He was the go-to guy for the Detroit Lions and with good reason.
The truly scary aspect of Calvin Johnson, though, is that he is only getting better. It’s not as easy to be as fluid and precise with your routes and fakes when you’re Johnson’s size as it is if you’re 6’ and 200, and he’s taken some time to improve that area of his game. While he once relied simply on being a better athlete, now he is beating players with his routes as well, and that makes him a frightening proposition for opposing defenders.
Going forward with the trust of his young quarterback and the Lions adding weapons to try and take the focus off defending Johnson alone, he could be in for another truly dominant year. The season he accounted for in 2011 was enough to fire him up our Top 101 list to land firmly into the Top 5, a spot he may well occupy for years to come.
Best Game: Wild Card Round @ New Orleans Saints (+7.2)
The Lions went down in the Wild Card round of the playoffs to the New Orleans Saints in what was supposed to play out more like an Arena League game than an NFL playoff game, such was the ability to put points on the board that both sides had. Detroit took a 14-10 lead into the half, and while they doubled their total by the end of the game, New Orleans had kicked into high gear and ended up putting 45 on the board.
While the Lions went down in the end, it certainly wasn’t because of Johnson, who collected 12 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns despite the Saints giving him heavy attention in coverage. Thrown at 15 times in the game, only two players from the Saints were able to prevent completions as Matthew Stafford had a perfect QB rating when targeting his monstrous pass-catcher. The Saints were as aware as anybody how dominant Johnson can be, having played him once before in the regular season, and yet they were still unable to prevent him from putting up massive numbers.
Key Stat: Led WRs in yards (1,685) and touchdowns (16)
There are few players in the NFL that are so physically gifted they are limited only by the number of times they are given the football. Calvin Johnson is one of those players, and he provides a dependable security blanket for Matthew Stafford to force the ball to whenever he gets into trouble. Johnson was thrown at 151 times this season, and hauled in 96 of those passes, or 63.6%. More importantly, only four passes intended for him were picked off, largely because he has such an expansive catch radius that he can fix all but the most terrible of passes.
In essence, passing to Calvin Johnson is about as safe a place as you can go with the football, and given the ability he has to run away from, or even right over, defenders in his way, the Lions were happy to serve it to him as often as they could. Johnson has taken over from where Randy Moss left off as the league’s most uncoverable wide receiver, and while they called Randy Moss “the freak”, they call Calvin Johnson “Megatron”. The outcome is the same, throw the ball up to them and let them make things happen. Johnson did that last year, enough to earn him this spot inside the Top 5 on our list.