Calvin Johnson put in a sensational performance against the Bengals last weekend – capped by a sensational 50 yard TD catch thrown up on a prayer by QB Matthew Stafford into triple coverage! His ability to pull in passes like that may not have won his Lions team the game, but his 9 catches for 155 yards and 2 TDs thrust him back into the limelight after a somewhat disappointing start to the 2013 season. He is hailed amongst the best that the NFL has to offer in the WR position, if not the best. All this begs the question – just how good is he? Where does he rank in the list of great NFL receivers?!
Johnson’s stats this year are good, but hardly stellar this far (week 7 aside). In his 6 games this year, Megatron has 33 catches for 492 yards and 6 TDs at an average of 14.9 yards per catch. This compares with his 122 catches (1964 yards and 5 TDs) in 2012 and 96 catches (1681 and 16 TDs) in 2011. In his first 98 career games Johnson has produced a total of 521 receptions for 8328 yards and 60 TDs.
How does this compare with some of the all time greats? Whilst difficult to compare players from different eras, it is worth looking at Johnson’s raw stats against the first 98 games of some of the best receivers of recent years in the NFL. How does he stand up against the careers of Hall of Famers Jerry Rice, Cris Carter or Michael Irvin? How about controversial yet productive players in the more modern era such as Randy Moss or Terrell Owens?
So let’s look at the main comparable stats for wide receivers – receptions, yards and TDs. Do Megatron’s stats hold up against these undisputed stars of the game? If so, he can surely start to place himself in the upper echelons of all time receivers.
In terms of catches Johnson ranks second in our list of receivers, with only Moss’ 537 grabs surpassing him. Rice managed 475, Carter 307, Irvin 429 and Owens 440. When taking yardage into account, again his 8328 yards stand up well against the others, ranking 3rd and less than 150 yards from top spot. Moss’ 8471 tops the list again, followed closely by Rice with 8449, Irvin with 7138, Owens 6526 and Carter 4362.
Our third marker separates the game changers and the players who are able to thrive both inside and outside the Red Zone. Rice with 86 and Moss with 80 are streets ahead in this respect. Megatron’s 60 are less even than Terrell Owens 63, but he ranks way ahead of Carter’s 42 and Irvin’s 41.
Rice is the undisputed King of NFL wide receivers and hailed as one of, if not the, best players in the history of the NFL. Although the NFL of the 80s was much less pass friendly, Rice’s numbers are pretty similar to those of Johnson which puts the current Lions star in good company!
Carter had a slow start to his career in Philadelphia, but by the end of his career had done enough to earn a spot in Canton, with over 1100 receptions and 130 TDs. Johnson’s start to his career as vastly exceeded that of Carter, although it must be added that Carter’s best years came in the second half of his career. But this still goes to show just how strong Johnson’s start to his own career has been!
Both Irvin (a key member of the dominant 90s Cowboys side) and Carter had slow starts to their career in the less pass orientated league of the late 80s, early 90s. The fact that Rice thrived in this environment is due to a combination of his sheer genius on the football field combined with his near telepathic relationships with another all time great, QB Joe Montana.
All in all it is clear that we are witnessing a player who, if he continues to perform at his current level, will end up as one of the best all time and is seemingly on course to be a nailed on enshrine to the Hall of Fame – probably at the first time of asking.
A lot of football to play before then, of course, and I’m sure that he’d swap all the personal stats and recognition for a shot at the big one and a Superbowl ring with the Lions. But if we are talking about potential Hall of Fame players then there can be no doubt that Megatron very much deserves his place in that conversation. Enjoy his skills while you can!!