Bracing For the Calvin Johnson Blastoff

He's 6'5", 235 pounds. He runs a 4.35 forty. His hands are magnets. His character flawless. He is Calvin Johnson.

Football fans, brace yourselves for his arrival.

"Why?" you might ask. That's a fair question, because anyone who's not a Georgia Tech supporter or Detroit Lions lover probably has not yet received a sufficient dose of the talented wide receiver. The hype surrounding Johnson as he nears the onset of his rookie season is just not what it should be.

There are several reasons for this. First, Johnson was only second in the 2007 NFL Draft. It would be hard to win an argument by saying Johnson is not the most talented player in this year's rookie class, but at the same time you can't — at least not at this point in time — fault the Raiders for taking QB JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall. If Johnson has the most potential of anyone in the 2007 class, Russell is certainly number two in that respect and number three isn't even close.

As much as Al Davis liked Johnson, he couldn't pass up a potential franchise quarterback in Russell. And if Johnson had been the pick, who would have been able to get him the ball in Oakland? Well, that's not a difficult answer. Nobody. Without Russell on board, the Raiders would be fielding a training camp quarterback competition consisting of Josh McCown, Josh Booty, and Andrew Walter. That's like a kid walking into elementary school lunch, seeing "pot luck" on the menu, and being confronted with choices of fried okra, asparagus, and collared greens. None are acceptable. All are vomit-inducing.

It's not Johnson's fault that he was not the top pick, it was simply that the Raiders had no choice but to bring in a quarterback.

The second reason for a lack of appropriate hype is Johnson's position. Football aficionados find it a lot harder to get excited about a wide receiver than they do about a running back or a quarterback. Receivers need someone else to put the ball in their hands. Quarterbacks touch it on every single play, running backs get chances whenever the coach calls their number, but plenty of things have to happen before a wideout gets his name in the box score.

Putting it into numbers: Brett Favre led all quarterbacks with 613 pass attempts during the 2006 regular season, Larry Johnson was the NFL's workhorse in the backfield with 416 carries, and Andre Johnson topped all other receivers with just 103 catches. So even if Johnson exceeds the wildest of expectations in his rookie campaign, the bottom line is he will have much less face time than, say, JaMarcus Russell or second-year RB Reggie Bush.

Speaking of needing someone else to put the ball in your hands, that brings me to reason number three. Johnson's college quarterback for each of his three seasons at Georgia Tech was Reggie Ball. Ball made the occasional spectacular play for the Yellow Jackets, but calling him "erratic" and nothing else would be doing him a favor. Numbers aside, this is all you need to know about Reggie Ball: Georgia Tech fans reveled in his graduation while Georgia fans still bemoan the fact that their Bulldogs will never again play against him.

Despite having Ball behind center, Johnson put up numbers over his three year career at Tech that were not at all disappointing. He caught 48 passes for 837 yards and 7 TDs as a freshman, had 54 receptions for 888 yards and 6 scores the following season, and he exploded last year to the tune of 76 catches for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns. Just think of the kind of stats we'd be talking about right now had it not been for the following three performances, for which 50 percent of the blame can be placed on Ball, 49 percent on the Georgia Tech coaching staff, and one percent on Johnson:

  • 0 catches for 0 yards at Clemson on October 21
  • 3 catches for 13 yards at North Carolina on November 11
  • 2 catches for 13 yards at Georgia on November 25

What we'd be talking about, potentially, is a Heisman Trophy, but Johnson had no realistic shot at the award after the trip to Death Valley.

Johnson is by no means flying under the radar as the 2007 NFL season approaches, but a player of his stature cannot be accompanied by too much pomp and circumstance. After all, the league probably has never seen anyone quite like Calvin Johnson.

At the NFL Combine in February, Johnson measured in at 6'5" and 239 pounds. A man of that size should not be the fleetest of foot, but Johnson went out and ran a 4.35 in the forty at the combine. Legend has it that he did it in borrowed shoes, but Johnson later dispelled that myth. He had lent his own cleats to East Carolina QB James Pinkney, and when he went to retrieve them just before running, onlookers thought he was borrowing Pinkney's cleats.

Borrowed shoes or not, Johnson's blend of size and speed is unrivaled by any player in the NFL right now. He will be a terrifying matchup for every cornerback in the league. I'm not saying he is going to dominate the Champ Baileys of the world right from the start, but guys in the secondary will not have a lot of fun trying to contain him. Mere mortal receivers in the NFL are either not tall enough to abuse smaller cornerbacks, not fast enough to get open deep, or not strong enough to overcome getting jammed inside the five-yard area. Johnson has none of those flaws, and let's not forget that his hands are A+ material. He made catches at Georgia Tech that would make even Chris Chambers jealous.

Johnson has all the physical tools of Randy Moss and then some, but carries none of Moss's excess baggage. In fact, the character differences between the two could not be any more pronounced, and the Detroit Lions know it. When introducing Johnson shortly after the draft, team President and CEO Matt Millen opened by saying, "We were excited to draft not only what we believed to be the best player in this year's draft, but also probably the top character, which was important to us on a lot of different levels. He handles his business well, on and off the field."

Head coach Rod Marinelli agrees. "(He has) tremendous talent, but it's the other things that I'm really excited about," Marinelli said. "You bring a guy in to your organization that just loves this game and wants to work and is special."

Johnson never takes a play off, and when he finds the end zone he simply acts like he's been there before (because he has), calmly handing the ball over to the referee. Off the field, he is soft-spoken and trouble-free. In the summer of 2006, Johnson began a school project building solar latrines to improve sanitation in Bolivia. He traveled there this January to carry out his vision of helping the less fortunate.

A minor question mark popped up less than two weeks before the NFL draft when Johnson (along with fellow rookies Gaines Adams and Amobi Akoye) admitted to having used marijuana. That shouldn't affect how they are viewed and as one NFL general manager predicted, it had no effect on their draft positions. "The fact that they would come in and admit it and say they may have experimented with it shows they are honest," the GM said anonymously. "If a team has done its research and there are no red flags with the school, I would think that would be enough. A lot of players wouldn't say anything or would deny it. That kind of honesty probably relieves anxiety about a player's character than increases it." Agreed.

Iron-fisted commissioner Roger Goodell has to be breathing a sigh of relief that one of the next big stars in the league will not be taking up his time by getting involved in off-the-field shenanigans that necessitate suspensions. In an age of Pacman Jones making it rain, Michael Vick fighting pit bulls, and Cincinnati Bengals players getting arrested every other week, Johnson will be a welcomed sight for the NFL.

He'll be quite a sight to see on the field as well for the Detroit Lions, and he's already proving to be just that. At OTAs last month, Johnson was consistently one of the first players to arrive and one of the last to leave. In between, he wasn't too shabby, either, at least not according to QB Jon Kitna. "The kid is as good as everybody said he was, or better," Kitna raved. "I haven't played with anyone like that big, who runs, snatches everything. This guy is like the perfect mold for receivers, and he has the desire to be great. He went above what I thought he could be. He has a different way about him. He doesn't take any plays off. He gets mad at himself. That's a good thing."

Johnson is probably the main reason why Kitna guaranteed the Lions will win at least 10 games this season. Detroit fans should not be quite as optimistic. They also cannot be foolish enough to assume that Johnson will instantly become the best receiver in the NFL, but there's every reason to think that Johnson will be one of the game's elite sooner rather than later.

Calvin Johnson is coming, and you wouldn't even know it. But hey, that's exactly how he wants it to be. Starting September 9, Johnson will let his game do all the talking.

Comments and Conversation

July 18, 2007


Wow! Thanks for giving us more information about arookie to watch—both for his prowess and his character. If the NFL wants to keep its fan base, it will need to put some players with integrity in the limelight. Calvin Johnson doesn’t want to call attention to himself (letting his game do all his talking), so it will be up to the press to bring him to our attention. Let’s hear more about the players who are hard-working, up-standing athletes.

July 19, 2007


don’t forget roy williams either.

July 19, 2007


Roy Williams is nothing compared to CJ. He’s a joke.

July 21, 2007


“Roy Williams is nothing compared to CJ. He’s a joke.”
Roy Williams led the NFC in rec. yards last year and you say “He’s a joke”?
LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL…I think you might want to reconsider that comment or risk exposing your lack of NFL knowledge to the world.
OOPS…too late!

Leave a Comment

Featured Site