State Your Case: Calvin Johnson on track for Hall of Fame


(Photo courtesy of Primero y Diez)

You won’t find Calvin Johnson’s name among the NFL’s leaders in career receptions. Nor will he be among the league’s all-time leaders in receiving touchdowns and yards. But so what?

Because there are few wide receivers who made more of an impact than Detroit’s Calvin Johnson, and, yeah, I know he’s not eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame until 2021. But with the NFL redefining its Catch Rule … and Calvin Johnson squarely in the middle of the controversy … I thought the time was right to make his case for Canton.

And it’s an easy one to make.

Because in a relatively short period (nine years as a pro), Johnson made an indelible mark on the game — and he did it under less-than-ideal circumstances, playing for a Detroit Lions team that went to the playoffs only twice while he was there. That couldn’t have been easy. Yet Calvin Johnson made it look easy.

Twice he led the league in yards receiving, including 2012 when he broke Jerry Rice’s NFL record for most yards in one season with 1,964 — an average of almost 123 per game. One year later he produced a franchise-record 329 yards receiving in one game, the most in an NFL regulation contest. Once he led the league in catches. Once he led it in touchdown catches. Six times he was named to the Pro Bowl. Four times he was named All-Pro.

In 2014 he became the fastest player to reach 10,000 yards receiving. He set the league record for most consecutive games (8) with 100 yards in catches and most consecutive games (4) with 10 or more receptions. He’s tied with one other receiver for most 100-yard games (11) in one season, and that player is Hall-of-Famer Michael Irvin.

I don’t think I need to draw you a map. In short, Calvin Johnson belongs in Canton.

Nevertheless, I saw a critic knock the guy — saying he wasn’t a Hall of Famer, and it wasn’t “even close,” mostly because he played “only” nine seasons. Well, then, tell that to Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley. Neither played nine seasons, and both were inducted in 2017. Tell it to Tony Boselli, too. He played seven years, yet he’s been a Top-10 finalist the past two years.

But the criticism didn’t stop there. The writer took on Megatron for not winning a playoff game, as if he were coaching the Lions. Well, he wasn’t. Now, tell me how many playoff games Terrell Owens won after the 2002 season. On second though forget it. I’ll spare you the trouble.

Zippo.

All I know is that in the two playoff games that Johnson did appear he had 17 receptions for 296 yards — or an average of 148.5 per contest — and two TDs, or as many as Hall-of-Famer Marvin Harrison had in the 16 playoff games he played. Yet losing those games was somehow Calvin Johnson’s fault? Please.

Next time you want to knock his playoff performance you might want to check with the Lions’ defensive coordinators. They surrendered 69 points in those two losses, and, sorry, but Calvin Johnson wasn’t involved on that side of the ball. If he were, they might have won.

“If Calvin Johnson makes the Hall of Fame,” said former selector Mike O’Hara, now a contributing columnist to DetroitLions.com, “it will be because the selectors will see that his career was defined by quality of play and greatness, not just great stats.

“He was the hardest receiver of his era to cover. Defenses accounted for him the way they used to for another Detroit Lion. That was Barry Sanders. What a Hall-of-Fame Detroit duo that would be.”

Look, I know Johnson doesn’t have the career numbers of a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens, both of whom are in the Hall’s Class of 2018. I also know he doesn’t have the career numbers of a Chad Johnson or an Andre Rison, and they’re not in the Hall … and won’t be. But Calvin Johnson played nine seasons, seven fewer than Owens and six fewer than Moss, and for those nine seasons there were few more dynamic players at any position.

He was Megatron, the guy who made the Detroit Lions watchable, and while he produced Moss and Owens-like numbers he did not produce the drama both brought. What’s more, I remember when Johnson was at the 2007 NFL scouting combine and Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy saying the easiest call was deciding who the best … and most complete … player in that year’s draft was.

It was Calvin Johnson. Then Johnson went out and proved it.

Sorry, but longevity and failure to win Super Bowls don’t cut it here. Tell me how many Super Bowls Randy Moss and Terrell Owens won together, and I’ll tell you it was the same as Calvin Johnson. Yet Moss is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Owens goes in on his third try.

So this one is easy for me. Save a spot in Canton for Calvin Johnson. Because you’re going to need it.

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5 Comments

  1. Rob
    April 3, 2018
    Reply

    Clark, Do you think the voters favor longevity of a hof career or peak of their careers like Terrell Davis?

    • April 3, 2018
      Reply

      favor longevity UNLESS player was exceptional. feeling was TD was that player. think there’s similar feeling about boselli. but longevity is still a big deal … just not a deal breaker as it once was.

  2. Rasputin
    April 3, 2018
    Reply

    Seems similar to Sterling Sharpe, though one could argue Sharpe was even more statistically dominant in his 7 years than Johnson was in his 9.

    • April 3, 2018
      Reply

      Don’t disagree. Not sure why Sharpe doesn’t get more traction, especially with voters softer on durability. Once I thought it had to do with his abrasive durability, but not anymore. He really deserves serious attention.

  3. bachslunch
    April 5, 2018
    Reply

    Fine write-up as always, Clark. Agreed, Calvin Johnson (3/6/10s?) has the peak and then some for HoF election. My guess is that he’ll wait a few years but get in. His career is likely just that much longer than Sterling Sharpe’s (9 vs. 7 years) that it will make the difference.

    Though I think Sharpe (3/5/none) should also be in, no question. Monster peak. And then there’s Del Shofner (5/5/60s), who has a similar big peak but short career case — and he’s languishing in Senior purgatory. There’s no justice for guys like this, gotta say.

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