NFL: Is Calvin Johnson 1 of the Greatest Wide Receivers of His Era?

During his nine-year tenure in the NFL, former Detroit Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson firmly established himself as one of the most uniquely talented players. Although his career came to an abrupt end, albeit one that ended much sooner than fans would have hoped, he made a tremendous impact on the league.

Calvin Johnson was a game-changer from the start

Heading into the NFL, Johnson was arguably the most promising player in the 2007 draft class that made him an easy selection for the second overall pick by the Detroit Lions.

He was coming off a highly decorated three-year collegiate career at Georgia Tech that translated to an immediate tremendous impact at the next level behind his 6-foot-5 and 237-pound frame with track-like speed. He had a knack for the big play along with being a dangerous red-zone target due to his stature and strength that made for numerous memorable big moments throughout his career.

Johnson put together a stellar nine-year run despite nagging injuries as he compiled 731 receptions, 11,619 receiving yards and 83 touchdowns. He had seven seasons topping 1,000 receiving yards, four with more than 10 touchdowns and topped 70 receptions – all but twice. All of this helped him earn six Pro Bowl selections, three First-Team All-Pro nods and a Second-Team All-Pro selection.

Was Calvin Johnson the best of his time?

Johnson may have spent just short of a decade in the NFL, but he demonstrated that he was not only one of the best talents in the league, but possibly the top wide receiver during his time.

His unique skill set and size translated smoothly to the NFL as he had the ability to make catches in traffic behind his strong hands while being able to blaze past defensive backs as a deep-ball threat. Simply put, there may not have been a more physically gifted player in the league who could have done what he did.

This was something that Johnson made quite clear during a recent wide-ranging interview with Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated.

“I was a beast during that time; I was hands down the best receiver in the game. I’m not gonna argue with you, but I know I was.”

There may have been many other talented wide receivers during his time such as Julio Jones, Terrell Owens, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Antonio Brown, and Dez Bryant, but none had entirely what the Georgia Tech product brought to the table.

Is Calvin Johnson Hall of Fame-bound?

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson
Former Lions star wide receiver Calvin Johnson was simply unmatched during his era. | Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Johnson is heading into his third year removed from his sudden retirement from the NFL, which has brought to the forefront of what will be his inevitable bid for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Like another former Lions great Barry Sanders before him, Johnson retired during the prime of his career with what could have been several more highly productive campaigns ahead. Despite that being the case, he believes that he has done more than enough to get into at some point.

“I don’t expect to get in on the first ballot,” he says. “But I do expect to get in eventually. I got 11,000 yards—but if that’s not enough, it’s not enough. If I don’t make it, I’m not gonna stop living life.”

At the time of his retirement, Johnson had secured nearly every significant Lions’ all-time mark along with 15 NFL records, including the most receiving yards in a single-season with 1,964 in 2012. His 11,619 total receiving yards are still ranked 30th all-time and his 86.1 yards per game is first among retired players.

What Johnson could have done if he had not retired early would have made him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he has certainly done enough to warrant one day getting a bust in Canton, Ohio.