Calvin Johnson: The Best That Never Was

Let’s pretend for a second that you’re playing the most recent Madden game. You’re building your entire roster with Create-A-Players. The quarterback is tall, strong, has a monster arm, and a brilliant 40 time. Your running back is a healthy combination of Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles. Your offensive line is built entirely of gigantic monsters. Then you get to the wide receiver. You make a freak, 6’5, 236 pounds, with a 4.35 40, and the ability to make one handed catches. Sound too good to be true? Congratulations, you just created Calvin Johnson.

Calvin Johnson: The Best That Never Was

Calvin Johnson was the best wide receiver prospect of all time. Keep in mind that I didn’t say best receiver, just best receiver prospect. He was big, strong, and had blinding speed. He had reliable hands, ran crisp routes, and could out-jump just about anyone. Calvin Johnson was the second overall pick in the 2007 draft, and considering that JaMarcus Russell was the first, the man they’d call Megatron should’ve been the first.

However, many players make great prospects, and flounder in the pros. Jadeveon Clowney was considered a world-class pass rusher heading into the 2014 draft, but in the three seasons since the Houston Texans made him the first overall pick, he’s only registered 10.5 sacks. Draftmate Khalil Mack has had almost three times as many quarterback take-downs, and he doesn’t play opposite J.J. Watt. Fear not, Calvin Johnson wasn’t one of those players.

He got with the program immediately, and became the biggest nightmare in the league for defensive coordinators. How in the world could you cover someone that was that big, that fast, and that talented? How great was Calvin Johnson? There’s an easy answer.

The 2008 Season

The 2008 Detroit Lions are one of the worst teams in NFL history, becoming the first to fail to win a game in a 16 game season. They were garbage. The Lions were 30th in total offense, and Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton, and Drew Henson played quarterback in Detroit. Know what else happened? Calvin Johnson balled out.

He caught 78 passes for 1,331 yards, and 12 touchdowns in his second season with those clowns at quarterback. He had a dominant season on one of the worst teams in NFL history. You can’t take that away from him. Considering that that was his third or fourth best season in NFL history, he has to be established as one of the best ever, right? After all, he broke the Madden curse. Well…


The biggest problem with Calvin Johnson’s legacy? His career was just too short. He only played nine seasons in the NFL, and while he dominated for those nine seasons, it’s not enough. Jerry Rice played for 20 years. Terrell Owens played for 16. Even Reggie Wayne played for 15. A nine year career just wasn’t enough to cement Megatron as one of the all time greats.

He’s 29th all-time in receiving yards, and there are 11 retired receivers with more yards that aren’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you add the five men that are still playing with more yards, you see that there’s one hell of a logjam for receivers to get into Canton, Ohio. Even though Johnson’s average season (81 catches, 1,291 yards, and nine touchdowns) is comparable to Rice (77 catches, 1,145 yards, and 10 touchdowns), Randy Moss (58 catches, 1,092 yards, and 11 touchdowns), or Terrell Owens (72 catches, 1,062 yards, and 10 touchdowns), he just didn’t have a long enough career to earn a place with them.

The Best That Never Was?

How good Calvin Johnson was for the Detroit Lions is undeniable. If you built a perfect wide receiver from the ground up, he would look a lot like Calvin Johnson. The work ethic, the unbelievable hands, and the freak athleticism made him the NFL’s best. How good Megatron was is undeniable, but how good he could’ve been? We’ll wonder about that forever.