Is Calvin Johnson Still the NFL's Best Wideout?

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IOctober 23, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22: Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass in front of Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on October 22, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Lions 13-7.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Despite what some have considered a disappointing start for Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions receiver still remains the best player at his position in the NFL

His statistics are down from 2011 but still elite, and there's no player at any offensive position that has the kind of physical mismatch that Johnson brings every week on the Lions' schedule. 

Some of Johnson's early struggles culminated during Detroit's 13-7 loss to the Chicago Bears Monday night. 

On 11 targets, Johnson caught just three passes for 34 yards and zero touchdowns as the Lions continued to sputter inside the red zone. For for first time since 2010, Johnson didn't have a catch in the first half.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford did attempt to get the ball to Johnson on several occasions in the end zone, but the two still haven't hooked up for a touchdown this season. Stafford found Johnson for 16 touchdowns last season. 

Even though the scoring numbers are down significantly (Johnson had nine touchdowns through six games in 2011), the remaining statistics still paint the picture of an elite NFL receiver. 

This season, Johnson has 38 catches (10th in NFL) for 592 yards (fifth), good for a 15.6-yard average (19th). Of the 38 catches, 12 have gone for 20 yards or more (first) and 29 have been good enough for first downs (eighth). Johnson's 98.5 yards a game is second-best in the NFL. 

Put those numbers over a 16-game schedule, and Johnson is currently on pace to catch 101 passes for 1,579 yards this season. In 2011, Johnson caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards.

Johnson's one touchdown is an obvious sore spot, and so is his catch-to-target ratio (38 catches to 66 targets). But the rest of the numbers are what you'd expect from one of the game's best receivers. 

Combine the numbers—which so many have considered "struggling" for Johnson—with his still-intact physical skills, and you get a receiver that still should be considered the NFL's best. 

There are just precious few human beings on the planet that are 6'5" and 240 pounds with a vertical leap of 42.5 inches and a 40-yard time of under 4.4 seconds. There are even fewer cornerbacks capable of handling such a physical freak of nature, even if Charles Tillman did such a fantastic job Monday night. 

Eventually, the touchdown numbers will return, the doubters will vacate and Johnson will be hailed as the game's brightest star at the receiver position. A lot more than a one-touchdown stretch over the first six games of this season is needed to steal that title away from him.