Last year, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had one of the most impressive seasons from a wide receiver you are likely to see for the next decade or so. Johnson led the NFL in receiving DYAR (570), a mark so productive that one has to go all the way back to 1995 when Michael Irvin led the NFL in DYAR (599) to find a wide receiver who was able to eclipse Johnson’s value in the passing game. When any player has a season so overwhelmingly and historically productive, it is almost inevitable that the player will fail to live up to his production level the following season. However, this is in no way an indictment of the player’s ability, unless he has been consistently unproductive in his other seasons and the heights he reached the previous season were really an outlier, nor an invitation to ask what exactly is wrong with the player.
Therefore, it is no surprise that Johnson has not been as productive this season as he was last year, but we should have never expected him to be. Instead, we should have just been making sure that he was still an extremely valuable wide receiver and had not fallen off a cliff into a vat of mediocrity. That he has still been a great wide receiver this season, even without being historically amazing, just further cements what an excellent wide receiver he is. Even when he is not at his very best, he is still one of the best wide receivers playing in the NFL currently.
Heading into his week 10 game against the Minnesota Vikings, Johnson was second in the NFL in receiving DYAR (201); Johnson will probably see quite an uptick in his receiving DYAR after his performance in that contest when he caught 12 of the 13 passes thrown in his direction en route to gaining an astounding 207 receiving yards and catching a touchdown pass. In addition to being valuable overall relative to his wide receiver colleagues, Johnson has been such an integral part of the Detroit Lions’ passing attack that without him, the team is really nothing.
Using pass target and play-by-play statistical data provided by NFL.com, after Johnson’s receiving statistics are removed from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s passing statistics, Stafford undergoes a 1.6 percent increase in his completion percentage (from 63.9 percent to 64.9 percent), a 12. 9 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 7.0 to 6.1), an 11.9 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (from 6.7 to 5.8), a 13.6 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 11.0 to 9.5), a 21.4 percent increase in touchdown percentage (from 2.8 percent to 3.4 percent), and a .9 percent decrease in interception percentage (from 2.2 percent to 2.0 percent).
While Johnson has not excelled in catching touchdown passes this season, there is a lot more to being an elite wide receiver than catching touchdown passes as evidenced by the fact that the decreases Stafford has experienced in his yards per attempt and yards per completion averages are of the statistically significant variety. Given the alternative, it is exceedingly more important that Johnson provide a great degree of value to his quarterback’s yards per pass attempt and yards per completion average than his touchdown percentages.
Based on just how much Johnson’s presence on the field has meant to the passing offense of the Lions, there is no reason to be concerned about him or his productivity or for him to feel the need to talk openly about his injuries as if to use them as an excuse for some perceived lack of productivity. Instead of his play this season being a disappointment just because he is not having another historically productive season, it has actually solidified his status as one of the NFL’s top wide receivers.