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Yes, Calvin Johnson is a Hall of Famer

calvinjohnsonmadden13coverHere’s something I didn’t think would need defending.

In the wake of Calvin Johnson’s surprising-but-not-that-surprising retirement announcement on Tuesday, there has been plenty of discussion regarding his Canton credentials. And a good portion of the talk has come from a negative place. Some people from major outlets think that Calvin is not Hall of Fame-worthy.

Let’s try to tear down the top pillars supporting such a point of view.

He didn’t play long enough

Among the justifications given for why Calvin should be kept out of the Hall, this is definitely the most ridiculous. Here is FOX Sports writer Chris Chase from that first link:

“Megatron played for just nine years, too short for anyone not named Jim Brown to deserve a bust in Canton.”

Yep, if you played for less than a full decade and are not named Jim Brown, you can’t get into this club.

Someone tell that to Gale Sayers.

Or Dick Butkus.

Or Earl Campbell, Kellen Winslow, Lynn Swann, Paul Hornung, Lee Roy Selmon and Dwight Stephenson. Sayers, Campbell and Stephenson didn’t even make it to a ninth season. If only they had stuck around for a little while longer, maybe we could agree that all of those guys are Hall of Famers.

If you feel the need to point out that many of those players retired early due to injury,  I pose this question to you: Why do you think Johnson has called it quits?

He didn’t put up enough numbers

Related to the longevity stance is one that says Johnson doesn’t deserve his bronze bust because he is trailing so many lesser receivers on the statistical leaderboards.

From Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith:

“Johnson is 43rd on the all-time receptions list, behind the likes of Santana Moss, Donald Driver, Andre Rison, Eric Moulds, Chad Johnson, and Roddy White. Keenan McCardell, for crying out loud, has more than 150 more catches than Calvin Johnson.

“On the all-time yardage list, Johnson finishes at No. 27 with 11,619 — and he’ll likely be 29th after Brandon Marshall and tight end Jason Witten pass him by this season. Derrick Mason, Jimmy Smith, and Irvin Fryar all have more yards than Johnson.

“Johnson’s 83 touchdown receptions is good for 22nd all time, behind Mark Clayton, Irving Fryar, and Andre Rison.”

All of that is factually correct. But you can see major flaw hiding in plain sight with such a list. Every retired player mentioned there — everyone except White, Marshall and Witten — played a bunch more games than Calvin Johnson. So, yes, Santana Moss has more catches than him. One more, actually; Moss had 732 catches to Calvin’s 731. I’m pretty sure Calvin would have caught one more pass if he had the opportunity to play in 197 games, as Moss did.

Instead, Johnson played in 135 games. Mason, who racked up 442 more receiving yards than him, played in 220. Fryar, who has a single touchdown more than Megatron, suited up 255 times. 

The players used in this comparison should be commended for how long they played in the punishing NFL. But those players, for all of their numbers, ended their careers on a whimper. They petered out. Johnson, conversely, ended his career with 88 receptions and more than 1,200 yards.

The fact that he didn’t play more than nine seasons — and thus finds himself behind all these compilers — shouldn’t mean much. Since when did nine seasons playing in the National Football League turn into a short period of time? Nine years of getting hit by other yoked dudes with bad intentions. And here’s what Johnson accomplished during that time …

 With a minimum of 100 games played since the merger, receiving yards per game:

  1. Calvin Johnson: 86.1
  2. Torry Holt: 77.4
  3. Marvin Harrison: 76.7
  4. Andre Johnson: 76.2
  5. Jerry Rice: 75.6

Not even close, and that’s among some other wideouts who played/are playing in the NFL’s pass-happy climate.

With a minimum of 100 games played since the merger, receiving touchdowns per game:

  1. Randy Moss: 0.716
  2. Terrell Owens: 0.699
  3. Marvin Harrison: 0.674
  4. Jerry Rice: 0.650
  5. Calvin Johnson: 0.615

I see nothing but HOF’ers there.

Alas, in receptions per game, Johnson falls out of the top five.

He is sixth.

When examining a player’s Hall of Fame chances, you want to see a extended, continuous period of high performance. For Calvin Johnson, that period — his Hall of Fame peak, basically — consists of his entire body of work.

So he didn’t hang on long enough to pad his resume and catch more passes than Santana Moss. What he did do for nine years — nine freaking years — is play like one of the best wide receivers in the league, if not the best. That should be enough time and evidence put in to say he is a Hall-worthy.

He didn’t win enough

This one is really difficult to fight. The Lions were generally awful during Johnson’s tenure. Sometimes, they were historically awful. He made it to the playoffs just twice, and the Lions went one-and-done each time. It’s what separates the profile of a Michael Irvin, who has stats similar to Johnson. Yes, Irvin played in 34 more regular-season games, but he also played in 16 postseason games, won a trio of titles and was generally a beast in the playoffs (he posted a career line of 87-1,315-8).

However, Johnson can’t be blamed for the ineptitude that surrounded him. It’s not his fault that he spent about 40 percent of his career working with Jon Kina, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton or Shaun Hill. It’s not his fault that the Lions ranked 15th or worse in total defense during seven of his nine seasons. It’s not his fault that, in four seasons, the Lions didn’t field another wide receiver who was capable of hauling in even 50 passes. Johnson faced double and triple teams for the wide majority of his career. It’s remarkable to consider what he accomplished in those seasons when the Lions didn’t have a single other receiving threat on the outside.

A good playoff record should bolster an NFL player’s Hall of Fame outlook. A bad or non-existent one shouldn’t be held against a player as a failure on his part, especially when said player plays a position that is wholly dependent on the competence of the quarterback. Calvin doesn’t earn any extra points in this category, but none should be deducted either.

By the way, through those two playoff games, Johnson caught 17 of 23 targets for 296 yards and two scores. He wasn’t the reason why Detroit was unable to advance.

There are many other stats you could bring up to argue in support of Calvin. Including: He possesses most of the Lions’ top career and single-season receiving marks. No player has ever gained more receiving yards that his 1,964 from the 2012 season. Seven Pro Bowls and three years as a first-team All-Pro. Only Moss accrued more receiving yards through his age-30 season.

But another feather in Johnson’s cap is the narrative that followed him through his time as a pro. It’s an old-school way of thinking, but when you consider Calvin Johnson, what words come to mind? I think some of the most frequent in that word cloud would be “dominant,” “monster” and “unguardable,” which isn’t even a word. In five years, Hall of Fame voters will not only weigh Johnson’s numbers but also his unquantifiable impact on the game and how he was perceived across the league.

He had an amazing mix of size and speed. He could beat you down the field and across the middle. No matter what opposing defensive coordinators did to throw him off his game, Calvin would still do stuff like this and make it look routine. And he did that kind of stuff on bad teams that didn’t have much else in the way of attention-grabbing weapons.

Plus, he had an awesome, fitting nickname. The numbers are what matter most, but those subjective things will factor in as well. All of it helps Johnson’s Hall of Fame cause.

In the first moments following Calvin’s announcement on Tuesday, some tool tweeted this out:

Well, I realize that I am going to be wrong. Calvin will not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. That statement came from a place crowded by emotion, nostalgia and recency bias. If the likes of Harrison and Owens are forced to wait, Johnson will be too. That’s just how it works. And I recognize that with the current NFL, many other wide receivers — Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Odell Beckham Jr., etc. — will come along and begin to cheapen Johnson’s statistics. Some of his records will be broken.

I understand all of that. But for what he did for as long as he did — nine freaking years — and for whom he played with and against, there is no doubt that Calvin Johnson will be a Pro Football Hall of Famer.

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