Not many players in NFL history can say they have won three receiving yardage totals in their career. Might Detroit's Calvin Johnson join that exclusive club this season? "Megatron" is +800 on BetOnline's NFL odds to win that title.
Injuries Denting Megatron
Johnson was the best receiver in the NFL there for at least a couple of years and on pace to possibly go down as one of the five best in league history. But the 6-foot-5, 236-pounder out of Georgia Tech might be starting to break down. Johnson's best season came in 2012 when he caught 122 balls for a league-record 1,964 yards and five touchdowns. If a receiver was ever going to win the NFL MVP Award, that pretty much had to be the year. Believe it or not no receiver has ever done so. That's moderately surprising to me; I would have thought Jerry Rice or Randy Moss would have.
Johnson, who won the receiving title in 2011 as well with 1,681 yards, hasn't been able to play all 16 games since that record season. He was limited to 14 games in 2013, catching 84 balls for 1,492 yards and 12 scores. Despite the injury, Johnson was a first-team All-Pro for a third straight season, becoming the first receiver to accomplish that feat since Terrell Owens in 2000-02 with the San Francisco 49ers.
And last year, Johnson played in only 13 games due to a high-ankle sprain (he was very limited in two other games), catching 71 passes for 1,077 yards and eight scores. Pretty good numbers for most receivers but not Johnson. He did become the fastest receiver to reach 10,000 career yards during a Thanksgiving Day win over the Chicago Bears. Johnson did it in career game No. 115. The previous mark was held by Torry Holt, who got to 10,000 in 116 games. Johnson is currently No. 36 on the all-time list with 10,405 yards. It's possible he could get into the Top 25 with a big season. The record is 22,895 by Rice, and I think that's going to stand forever.
Doubt At Your Own Peril
By all accounts, Johnson has looked spectacular thus far in training camp; and, more important, healthy. The Lions open the preseason Thursday night at home against the Jets. Because of his size, Johnson can catch the ball just about anywhere Matthew Stafford puts it -- and there aren't any 6-foot-5 cornerbacks in the NFL; those small guys essentially have no chance of guarding Johnson.
"He's 6-5, so his wingspan is much higher than any other cornerback that's in the league," said Lions cornerback and 12-year veteran Rashean Mathis. "So if the ball is put in the right place and he reaches his hands up there and gets it, it's almost impossible to stop."
Former teammate and receiver Nate Burleson says that Johnson is using as motivation doubts some around the league have that he's on the downside of his career: "Calvin truly can care less what people think, but I know he hears it. The greats in any sport, they internalize those things and use it as motivation. I guarantee all these murmurs have Calvin motivated."
For years, teams could double-team Johnson because the Detroit Lions didn't have a very good No. 2 receiver to worry about. Now they do in Golden Tate, who caught 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four scores in 2014. The Lions could have an elite offense in 2015. Stafford is going to throw the ball plenty; his 602 attempts were fifth in the NFL last year and that was a career low (when Stafford played all 16 games). Of course the team also plays in a dome, so that can only help the passing game. In fact, the Lions will play just two outdoor games following their Week 9 bye: Week 10 in Green Bay and Week 17 in Chicago.
All indications are that the offense will open up a little bit more in Year 2 under coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Detroit ranked 19th in yards (340.8 per game) and 22nd in scoring (20.1) last season, and I expect both those numbers to improve.
NFL Free Pick: Johnson is +800 on BetOnline's NFL odds to win the receiving yards title. I think Johnson is motivated to have a big season, but I simply don't trust his body to hold up for 16 games. Plus Stafford will be sharing the ball around to Tate and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Eric Ebron -- look for a breakout second season for Ebron, the team's 2014 first-round pick. Johnson won't win the receiving yards title.