Even though Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson recently broke Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record and piled on 1,964 yards this year, NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt shocked the NFL world by claiming on Sirius/XM NFL Radio that Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones was better than Johnson.
After you calm down and think about this shocking revelation, you’ll see that Brandt is absolutely correct.
On the air, Brandt said that by polling 10 experts, six would say Johnson was the better receiver and the other four would take Jones.
I think some people like strawberry ice cream and some people like vanilla. They're both pretty good. I just think the whole package; I like Julio a little bit better than Johnson.
Brandt went on to say that Jones had better and stronger hands and that the Falcons receiver was more fluid. He gave Johnson the edge is speed and height.
The basic numbers lean towards Johnson, but when you peel back their meaning you get a different story.
Johnson caught 43 more passes than Jones and amassed 766 more yards. The conversation should begin and end there, right?
Let’s not forget that in the receiving corps with Johnson were Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew and Titus Young, to name a few. Jones was one of the “Big Three” that included Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. While Johnson caught 28 percent of Matthew Stafford’s completed passes, Jones caught just 18.7 percent of Matt Ryan’s.
Johnson was a much bigger portion of Detroit’s offense than Jones was of Atlanta’s. Therefore, Johnson’s counting stats are more favorable.
Not only was Johnson the bell cow in yardage and receptions, he moved the chains almost twice as much as Jones. That’s because he had to.
Johnson was the do-everything receiver in Detroit’s offense. Jones was more of a precision tool. Jones wasn’t used to move the chains in Atlanta—at least not as the Falcons’ primary source. White was Atlanta’s first-down machine and Gonzalez was a close second.
Jones was used to take the top off defenses and as an end-zone threat.
So even though Johnson’s stats look better, they don’t prove he was better. If you put Jones in Johnson’s shoes, wouldn’t he have performed similarly?
Actually, the next set of stats show Jones may have performed better than Johnson had he been in Johnson’s place.
Looking at Jones’ targets is somewhat laughable—he was targeted just five more times than Johnson had receptions. That’s another glaring sign that Johnson’s huge numbers can’t tell this story.
Look at what the two receivers did with the ball they caught on a per catch basis.
Jones caught a higher percentage of the passes that came his way and gained more yardage after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also made far fewer mistakes.
Jones dropped seven passes in 2012 or, more accurately, for every time he was targeted, he dropped a catchable ball 5.5 percent of the time. Johnson dropped twice as many catchable footballs, and since he had so many more targets, dropped 7 percent of the balls coming at him.
That goes a long way toward Brandt’s original statement that Jones had better hands. What about stronger hands?
Jones did not fumble the football in 2012. Johnson coughed the ball up three times. It’s inevitable that with so many more touches Johnson would make more mistakes, but three fumbles compared to zero by Jones speaks volumes.
Brandt actually makes a very valid point when he stated his opinion that he liked Jones more than Johnson.
I believe that if you switched the two receivers and replayed the 2012 season, Jones would break Rice’s record earlier and by more yards and Johnson wouldn’t have been as valuable a tool in Atlanta’s offense as Jones was.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and statements were obtained firsthand.