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STATISTICAL PROJECTIONS ARE REALLY JUST A MATHEMATICAL VENEER ON GUESSING. THEY CANNOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT WHO WILL BE INJURED, WHAT SCHEME CHANGES WILL WORK OR WHOSE OFF-THE-FIELD ISSUES WILL VANISH (OR SURFACE) for a season. Those are a few reasons why this magazine avoids assigning specific numbers—he'll have 972 yards and seven TDs!—to a player's upcoming season. It's impossible to be right.
But when it comes to Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, some things seem easy to predict.
Megatron had another statistically sensational year in 2010, catching 77 balls for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns. (It should have been 13 TDs, but he was robbed by a bad call.) What may have been the most impressive aspect of last season was that Johnson put up those numbers playing mostly with backup quarterbacks Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton while No. 1 signal-caller Matthew Stafford missed all but three games with a separated right shoulder. Johnson has now averaged 1,145 receiving yards over the past three years.
How difficult is it for defenses to shut down this 6' 5", 236-pound wideout with freakish athletic skills? When three opposing defensive backs were asked how to cover Johnson, they all started with the same word, er, sound: "Wooo!" It was a wooo of respect—and of resignation. One said, "You beat him by hoping the D-line gets [to the quarterback] quick." Another defensive back said, "The best you can do is disrupt the route, but he started adjusting. He got shiftier." The third said, "You have to double him. It's all that's held him back. If they had another threat—a for-real threat—and a healthy Stafford ... wooo!"
Those DBs should get ready to wooo some more. The strong-armed Stafford is on track to be healthy for the start of the season. And the Detroit front office did Johnson a favor by drafting Boise State receiver Titus Young, whose big-play ability (some draft analysts described him as DeSean Jackson Lite) will prevent defenses from always rolling their coverage in number 81's direction.
But even if Stafford isn't healthy and even if Young never sees the field, that's no reason to jump off Johnson. He put up last season's numbers without those two, and that 77/1,120/12 production line would be more than acceptable on any fantasy team.
Johnson is reminiscent of another great Lions receiver, Herman Moore, who starred in the 1990s with a combination of speed, size and savvy that the NFL had rarely seen. At 6' 4" and 210 pounds, he towered over defensive backs and abused them on jump routes, especially in the red zone. He couldn't be stopped at the line or bumped off patterns. Sound familiar?
The similarities between Moore and Johnson go beyond the physical. In 1994 Moore was in his fourth season when starting quarterback Scott Mitchell was lost for the year with a broken right wrist. In came backup Dave Krieg, and Moore still couldn't be stopped, putting up a 72-catch, 1,173-yard, 11-touchdown season. (Look familiar?) As good as that was, Moore exploded in 1995, going off for an NFL-record 123 catches for 1,686 yards and 14 scores.
The 2010 season was also Johnson's fourth, and if he takes a Moore-like step in his fifth season, fantasy owners could see something special. We'll avoid giving out a statistical projection, but we'll say it will be good enough to shout, "Wooo!"