Andre Johnson is the first wide receiver since Jerry Rice to lead the position in fantasy scoring in back to back seasons. This off-season Andre will certainly be the first receiver taken in your fantasy draft. Andre 3000 is the real deal and should finish as a top-5 WR. But it's too difficult to to project another season atop the NFL ranks for, regardless of talent level. While Andre is every bit as gifted as Jerry Rice there are other receivers with as much talent as the Texans All-Pro. This season there will be a new WR to finish as fantasy's No. 1 scorer. Here are five reasons Calvin Johnson will be that receiver:
1. He's a Freak - At 6'5" 236lbs. he is an inch taller than Randy Moss and has twenty pounds on the aforementioned Andre. His 40 yard dash time at the combine was 4.35, or just seven hundredths of a second slower than the fastest 40 time EVER recorded by a wide receiver. That means he's barely slower than speedsters who go 5-11, 180lbs. His nickname "Megatron" was bestowed upon him by Roy Williams because of his enormous hands. Johnson is able to rely on his unique blend of size, strength, speed, and leaping ability to beat defenders in a variety of ways. He is the most awesome physical specimen we have seen at the wide receiver position, plain and simple. But enough hyperbole. Let's talk numbers.
2. QB Consistency - Johnson was fed 136 targets in just 13 1/4 games in 2009. Over a full season that equates to 164 targets, just 7 behind, you guessed it, Andre Johnson. But while All-Pro Matt Schaub and AJ hooked up for 59% of targets received, Calvin caught a paltry 49% of passes thrown his way. Why? Well, Calvin was taking throws from three different QB's that included rookie Matthew Stafford, an over-the-hill Dante Culpepper, and Drew Stanton--who in six career starts has a passer rating of 32 and a 1:6 TD to interception ratio--ouch! Calvin endured four games in '09 where two QB's played part of each game and has caught passes from a carousel of six different QB's during his three years in Detroit. The stats from '09 (46 rec, 728 yds, 3 TD with Stafford / 21 rec, 252 yds, 2 TD without) indicate the stability of having his preferred QB under center for a full season will generate WR1 totals. It's also true that when young QB-WR duo's are paired up in the NFL and are given a full pre-season of work together, good things happen. Don't be surprised if Stafford to Johnson becomes the next Aikman to Irvin or Manning to Harrison.
3. Supporting Cast - The additions of WR Nate Burleson (free agency), TE Tony Scheffler (trade), and rookie RB Jahvid Best (draft) won't stop teams from double teaming Calvin. But hey, at least they won't be able to triple team him as has been the case in the past. Less defensive attention could easily produce an uptick in percentage of targets caught, to say 52%--good enough for 80 receptions for Calvin. While the presence of proven receivers and an upstart rookie RB may cause some to suggest a downturn in targets is likely for Megatron, the opposite may turn out to be true. An upstart offense that will get better as the weeks go on, Detroit will find that the more they move the football as a unit the more chances Johnson will get to receive passes. This will correlate nicely with an uptick in....
4. Red Zone Looks - Improvement from the entire Lions offense will translate into more trips into their opponents red zone. And as Lion's beat writer Tom Kowalski reported this summer, the coaching staff seems to recognize where the team should go with the football once they get there:
The Lions are going to (Calvin) a lot in the red zone, and he's coming through almost every time. The best part is that the Lions aren't simply throwing fades to him, they're using him on an assortment of routes so a corner and/or a double team can't anticipate what's coming.
In his first three seasons Calvin has totaled just seven receptions when the ball is snapped from inside the opponents 10 yard line. Six of the seven have gone for scores. With a variety of looks designed to keep defenses honest it isn't a stretch to predict a Fitzgerald-esque 10 red zone touchdowns for Johnson this year. Fitzgerald scored that very number in 2009 on 14 receptions, an reachable number if the Lions commit to their best player from inside the twenty.
5. Schedule - It is very difficult to predict how defenses will perform from season to season given the nature of the NFL. But the link is more about the "where" and "when" of the schedule than who the Lions play. Johnson much prefers the friendly track of a turf field to do his scoring. In his three years in the league Johnson has scored 15 of his 21 TD's on turf with two-thirds of his scores happening in domed arenas. 2010 will also see an interesting schedule that has Lions in no games played in the elements during the harsh winters of the North and Northeast. Take a look at the Lions schedule of outdoor games in 2010:
@ Chicago - September 12
@ Green Bay - October 3
@ New York Giants - October 17
@Buffalo - November 14
@Tampa Bay - December 19
@Miami - December 26
Soldier Field in the mid-seventies, Lambeau and the Meadowlands before Halloween, and Buffalo before the second week in November? Then two weeks in Florida to close the season?? Wow. It's entirely possible that the Lions will never experience temperatures below 40 degrees the whole season! In fact, the only game against a force of nature comes in the Lions week nine contest against the New York Jets and all-world cornerback Darelle Revis, who remains a holdout from team activities.
Right now the assumption in fantasy football is that Andre Johnson will finish the year as the No. 1 wide receiver in fantasy football. He won't. Calvin Johnson has the best chance to steal the crown already engraved with his name. Go ahead and take Megatron as the second wide receiver drafted in any fantasy format. And don't be surprised when it's the last time he's associated with the No. 2 this year. But don't thank me for recommending him to you. Thank yourself for recognizing that there is more to the fantasy football game than meets the eye.