Posted: Thursday October 19, 2006 2:15PM; Updated: Thursday October 19, 2006 2:55PM
Georgia Tech receiver Calvin Johnson should be a top pick in the NFL Draft.
Austin Murphy will answer questions from SI.com users.
What about Calvin Johnson? I'd just returned from Atlanta, where I'd spent time with Johnson, Georgia Tech's extraterrestrial wide receiver. Frankly, I can't recall when I've seen a playmaker like this guy, who caught 21 passes for 413 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games.
At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Johnson is tight-end sized. But he's run the 40 in 4.38, and has a 45-inch vertical. (Although, as I point out in my story on him this week, his teammates suspect he can go higher: the measuring contraption they have at Tech only goes up to 45. Left tackle Andrew Gardner thinks Calvin's true vertical is closer to 47.)
Think that will turn some heads at the NFL combine? I talked to one NFL scout whose director had discussed the possibility of Johnson being the No. 1 pick in this spring's draft. Only twice in the history of the draft has a wideout been selected first (Keyshawn Johnson in 1996; Irving Fryar in '84). Traditionally, teams use the primo pick on a quarterback, or a guy who can dramatically improve the defense, right away. A wide receiver is considered a "luxury" pick, said the scout. The thinking among most general managers is that you can win Super Bowls with wideouts taken in lower rounds -- or, at the least, from lower in the first round. He pointed to the cautionary example of the Detroit Lions, who've used first-round picks to select wideouts in every draft from 2003-05, "and they're not winning."
Two guys who could reasonably be selected before Johnson: Adrian Peterson and Quinn. The day after I spoke to that scout, Peterson, Oklahoma's matchless running back, broke his clavicle against Iowa State. For the third straight season, A.D. has suffered a significant injury. While there's simply no question that so vast a talent will have an immediate impact in the NFL, it's possible that his durability is now enough of a question mark to knock him out of the top spot. Johnson moves up.
Does he move up in Heisman contention?
I say yes, but am contradicted by the Pundit, who comes at me with the first of his ten Heismandments: "The winner of the Heisman must be a quarterback, a running back or a multi-threat athlete."
"The sad fact," he elaborates on his website, "is that the Heisman DOES discriminate. The best player in the country may well be a tight end. But the award is handed out by a select group of voters and they have without fail awarded the trophy to a quarterback, a running back or a multi-threat athlete."
So you're saying Johnson can't win because he doesn't return kicks? I ask HP. He nods sadly, with finality.
My take: as rock crushes scissors, Johnson's outrageous abilities negate this particular Heismandment. See if you don't agree. Go to RamblinWreck.com, click on the picture of No. 21 in the upper right hand corner. Check out the video montage of circus catches by Johnson, whose leaping, diving, one-handed snags fill us with wonderment, and, after awhile, beg the question: In the three years Johnson and Reggie Ball have played together, has Ballever hit the guy in stride? Does he have any routine catches.
"Of course he does," Yellow Jackets head coach Chan Gailey told me when I posed the question. "They don't put those catches with the highlights."
Chan's the head man, so I'm taking his word for it.