It might sound a bit crazy to challenge a player coming off of a record-setting season. As absurd as it may be, I'm prepared to do it anyway.
Last July, I wrote a column naming five players who must step forward as leaders of the Detroit Lions. None of the named players or coaches truly evolved into a leadership role this past season. The most important player who must grasp that position is Calvin Johnson.
After catching 122 passes for an NFL record 1,964 yards, Megatron has erased all conversation of who the best wide receiver in the league is. And believe it or not, Johnson is capable of repeating that same success for the next several years.
While being spectacular on the field, Johnson is also well-recognized for his work ethic and humble approach off the field. NFL legend Jerry Rice praised Johnson during his pursuit of the league record in receiving yards.
Johnson carries himself with class, and doesn't fall into the "diva" label many receivers adapt. He is a once-in-a-lifetime player and an athlete many can look up to.
So, why isn't that positive persona contagious among his team?
The general consensus would say the Lions just have too many knuckleheads on the roster. However, influence can come at any moment from a player willing to lead. What better influence than from arguably the most-gifted player in NFL history?
Megatron has never been the outspoken-type with the media, and always puts the team before himself. At times however, Johnson's quietness serves more as a detriment than a positive. Sometimes an emotional first-down gesture can fire up the crowd. A display of showmanship can inspire your teammates. An even better motion would be talking with young running back Mikel Leshoure after he fumbles in a pivotal moment. There hasn't been enough of that from Johnson.
Detroit could use a vocal and emotional boost from Johnson. The Lions were forced to play without their offensive leader Nate Burleson in October when he tore up his leg against the Chicago Bears. Their defense also suffered the lack of a leader while safety Louis Delmas appeared in and out of the lineup with multiple injuries.
As Matthew Stafford continues to grow as a young quarterback, Johnson must be able to step up as a leader. Megatron plans on being here for awhile after that monster contract extension. Shouldn't he be held to the same regard as veterans who command the locker room?
Johnson holds a better physical prowess than Randy Moss, but hasn't displayed the leadership or inspiration of Hines Ward. It doesn't just take record numbers to influence a team. Quarterback Tim Tebow completed a lousy 46.5 percent of his passes in 2011 with the Denver Broncos. However, it's hard to say Tebow didn't inspire the Broncos on their run to the playoffs.
So where can Johnson start? Look at Titus Young.
The troubled receiver created a ruckus on Twitter, denying that he ran incorrect routes and threatened to stop playing if he didn't receive the football more.
Young's biggest problem in Detroit's offense wasn't his number of catches, it was his immaturity and ability to stay out of trouble. From him sucker-punching Louis Delmas last summer or purposely lining up on the wrong side of the field, he's been a head-case in need of a pep talk and a reality check.
Johnson offered a politically correct statement on Young's troubles in December, but one can't help but wonder what's being said behind closed doors. Johnson and Nate Burleson could offer a great big brother-support system for the young receiver. Considering how often Young is in trouble, it gives a bad message that nobody has done enough to help turn things around.
The numbers and highlights Megatron has put together are extremely impressive, but a bit hollow considering the Lions' 4-12 finish and constant issues on and off the field. The Lions don't need record numbers, they need better records. A man with the character of Calvin Johnson would sacrifice personal statistics for team victories. The best place to begin working toward that goal is Johnson evolving into a leader.
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