Breaking Down Calvin Johnson's 2012 Season

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2013

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22:  Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions makes a second quarter touchdown catch behind the defense of Alan Ball #22 of the Houston Texans at Ford Field on November 22, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It's never difficult to recognize a truly special player. When the right combination of technical ability, physical talent, commitment and discipline comes together, the end product can be simply overwhelming. Truly special players are those players who you may or may not understand why they're special, but your eyes can't help but be drawn towards them every time they are on the field.

Being a football fan in 2012 allowed us to witness more than one truly special player. Second year players Von Miller and J.J. Watt made assaults on Michael Strahan's sack record. Their attempts ultimately failed, but rushing the passer wasn't even close to being all that they contributed on the field.

On offense, Adrian Peterson potentially played the greatest season of any player in any sport when you consider the circumstances of his 2,000 yard season, while all Peyton Manning did was come back from multiple neck surgeries to throw 37 touchdowns at 36 years of age.

It's definitely a special time in the NFL right now and maybe nobody outside of Calvin Johnson better epitomises that.

Some could argue that the 27-year-old Detroit Lions wide receiver had a down year last year. He did only score five touchdowns all season and wasn't producing on the level that was expected of him during his first seven games of the season. Yet, if last year was a down year for Johnson, then it is the best season to show off just how special he is.

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For any normal receiver, catching five touchdowns wouldn't be a problem. In fact only 39 players had more than that last year, so most would probably be delighted to reach that total. Johnson's five only look unimpressive in comparison to his 16 from the season before. A receiver of his caliber should be getting in the endzone more often. That is undeniable.

When you consider everything else that the receiver did last year though, it's impossible to blame him for any of the Lions' struggles during their 4-12 season.

Johnson finished the year with 122 receptions and 1,964 receiving yards to go along with those five touchdowns. Not only did he lead the league in receptions, he broke the record for the most receiving yards in a single Week 16. By the time the season finished, Johnson had overtaken Jerry Rice's record by more than 100 yards.

Of course, there were always going to be detractors. Some say the Lions threw the ball too much (they did set a record for passing attempts). Some say the record holds less value because of the Lions' record as a team, while others will go one step further to say that Johnson benefited from too many garbage time yards and racked up his yardage against prevent defenses.

This is the other aspect that comes with being a special player, you'll more often than not be a divisive figure. Because of the perch your play puts you on, others will always want to knock you down. In order to find a perspective on Johnson that is neither pushing his perch too high or detracting from the depths below him, an amount of analysis must be undertaken.

Explanation of the Process

If you are familiar with the defensive back analysis of Pre-Snap Reads, then you will already have an idea of how this process works. It is similar, but not exactly the same.

Every single snap of Johnson's 2012 season was put under this analysis:

  • Where he lined up on the field?
  • If a cornerback lined up over him, how deep was that cornerback?
  • If a safety lined up to his side of the field, how deep was that safety?
  • What coverage did the defense play against him? Zone or Man?
  • If Man, who was the defender responsible for him?
  • Was he double teamed?
  • What route did he run?
  • What was the depth of that route? Short (1-4), Intermediate (5-9), Deep (10+).
  • Did he gain enough separation on the route to 'beat' the defender?
  • What was the result of the play? Reception/Interception/Touchdown/Pass Interference.
  • Did Johnson make a play that 99 percent of players in the league couldn't make? These are called Take Aways.

Although every play was watched, not every play qualified. Any plays where the defense was in Prevent were not considered at all. Any plays that didn't see Johnson run through a full route were not considered for the coverage analysis. This means that screens, no matter what role he played, and quicker passes were not included. These plays still counted for the pre-snap alignment of the defense and where he lined up on the field.

Individual Cornerback Matchups 

 Those with less than four man coverage snaps against Johnson were not included.
Altered criteria made for slight changes in r
esults from the Pre-Snap Reads Cornerback Series. 

Weekly Breakdowns

Week 1 v St. Louis Rams:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.69 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 16.85 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: Eight.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 12/29.
Types of Routes Run: Nine.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 21/8.
Route Depth: 2 Short, 5 Intermediate, 22 Deep.
Double Teams: Six.

The Rams primarily played zone coverage regardless of who they faced last season. When they did match up to the Lions in man coverage, the bigger Bradley Fletcher was always used on Johnson with double teams more often than not.

Johnson caught six of his seven targets, finishing the game with 111 yards, but he only had three receptions on his nine successful deep routes. His pre-snap impact was evident on Joique Bell's second quarter touchdown from the one yard line, but the most notable takeaway from this game was just that, his take aways.

On three occasions, Johnson made plays that very few receivers can routinely make. It's this aspect of his game that makes him so tough to stop. When you tackle Adrian Peterson, he's tackled. When you block J.J. Watt, he's blocked. When you cover Johnson, he's not covered. Being in position isn't enough with Johnson, because he will use his height and ability as a hands catcher to take the ball away from you.

The Lions had just taken over after giving up a touchdown on an intercepted pass from Matthew Stafford. With just under 01:30 left in the first half, the Rams are going to rush just three defenders and play zone deep zone coverage. Johnson is lined up at the bottom of the screen. 

As the play develops, the Rams' secondary drops into a perfect coverage to counter the route run by Johnson. Johnson is running a post route where he tries to sell the out to the safety ahead of him, but the safety ahead of him doesn't buy it because of the cornerback to the outside. When Johnson comes out of his fake to run down the middle of the field, the deep safety still has the depth required to attack any pass that comes their direction.

Because of the three man rush, Stafford had plenty of time to move around the pocket, reset his feet and heave the ball downfield. Johnson was never actually open on this route, but as soon as it was in the air the defender knew he had no chance of getting to it.

Johnson had the speed to get downfield, but also the size, athleticism, body control and natural ability to catch the ball with his hands to catch the ball at the highest possible point. This is a 60/40 pass in favor of the defender for any normal receiver, but for Johnson, either he catches it or he drops it. The safety has no chance.

Week 2 v San Francisco 49ers:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.1 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 17.5 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 1.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 14/32.
Types of Routes Run: Nine.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 9/23.
Route Depth: 4 Short, 11 Intermediate, 17 Deep.
Double Teams: Nine.

With their outstanding front seven, there was no real need for the 49ers to expose themselves to Johnson's big play ability. They routinely flipped coverage his way and double teamed him. On the one play when they didn't play a safety over the top, Johnson ran a short crossing route where he couldn't come free.

Johnson finished the game with 94 yards on eight receptions. His big play ability was limited by the 49ers' approach, but not neutralised completely. Johnson had three receptions of 20 or more yards and came free deep on six occasions in total.

On one of those plays, his first 20+ yard reception of the fourth quarter, Johnson showed off his outstanding route running.

Because of his size and ability to snatch the football out of the air, Johnson's route running ability is somewhat understated. He isn't Stevie Johnson; he's never going to rely on his route running to come free all of the time, but it is a strong enough part of his game to make him a nearly indefensible weapon. Johnson beat Carlos Rogers here with a decisive fake and quick feet, aspects of his game that he showed off throughout the season against both zone and man coverage. 

Week 3 v Tennessee Titans:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.83 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 20.84 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 0.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 22/39.
Types of Routes Run: Six.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 32/7.
Route Depth: 0 Short, 7 Intermediate, 32 Deep.
Double Teams: Six.

The Titans defense as a whole was terrible last year. Whether it was personnel, coaching or just the chemistry of the unit, they couldn't come together and perform as a team. Against the Lions, they appeared to understand their limitations and tried to adjust to maybe contain the offense. It didn't work.

On average, safeties to Johnson's side of the field lined up 16.1 yards away from the receiver during the season. The Titans were the only team throughout the whole season who pushed their safeties back over 20 yards away from Johnson on average. That was simply too much space for the receivers to work in underneath and for the safeties to adequately support the run.

For most of the season, the Lions' running game couldn't take advantage of the gaps that were created by the presence of Johnson. That was no reflection of Johnson's impact, but rather of the Lions' inability to get any movement with their offensive linemen and the lack of burst coming from their backfield.

Mikel Leshoure played his first game against the Titans and managed to get to 100 yards, but that was his only 100 yard performance of the season. Joique Bell slightly improved the situation when he played more, as did Kevin Smith, but never enough to be considered adequate fits in the offense. The Lions needed more explosion to take advantage of the spaced secondary, something that Jahvid Best could have given them and something that Reggie Bush will hope to give them this season.

With their bigger backs, the Lions were consistently able to take advantage of these looks that they often received at the goal line. Johnson drawing a second defender that far away from the formation should make it easy to run the ball in. 

Week 4 v Minnesota Vikings:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 3.95 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 16.54 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 0.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 19/47.
Types of Routes Run: 10.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 31/16.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 10 Intermediate, 36 Deep.
Double Teams: Five.

Johnson dropped an easy touchdown reception in the end zone and was held to just five receptions for 54 yards by the Vikings well setup defense. At least, that's what it appeared on the broadcast.

The Vikings were able to use their more physical cornerbacks to show better resolve against Johnson than other teams had to this point, but he still came free 11 times on deep routes. Johnson had that one drop and was targeted seven times with two receptions coming on those routes. In other words, Stafford wasn't giving him enough opportunities to make plays.

By just looking at Johnson's production during last season, you would think there was something wrong with him during the first half of the season. He did play last year with broken fingers, but that wasn't why he was struggling early. He struggled early because he wasn't being given the opportunities to make big plays down the field. 

He was targeted 74 times during the first eight games, but 36 of those targets were shorter than 10 yards down the field. That leaves 38 targets that went at least 10 yards. 38 targets to 208 deep routes run. Of those 208 deep routes, 76 were successful, but that doesn't take into account the plays when Stafford could have played the percentages and put the ball up for Johnson to win it over the defender. 

Week 6 v Philadelphia Eagles:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 3.67 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 14.14 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 27.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 17/46.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 9/37.
Route Depth: 2 Short, 5 Intermediate, 39 Deep.
Double Teams: 13.

Although much of his success came with the aid of another defender, Nnamdi Asomugha looked like his old self at times against Johnson. Asomugha may not have the speed to run with receivers anymore, but he still has the fluidity and length to disrupt a player like Johnson when he is on his game. Even though Asomugha was able to disrupt him quite a bit, Johnson still showed off many of his talents during a 135 yard performance.

Accuracy for a quarterback is very important. Where he places the ball around the receiver is the difference between a reception, incompletion or interception. Different levels of accuracy are needed for different receivers. For Calvin Johnson, there is very little accuracy needed (in relative terms of course).

This is because Johnson has a huge wingspan and catch radius.

On this play early in the fourth quarter, Asomugha plays the sideline route perfectly.

However, Stafford throws the ball to Johnson's backshoulder. The backshoulder throw is very difficult because it needs to be very accurate and on time. Stafford throws this ball perfectly on time, but it doesn't have to be pinpoint accurate because of Johnson's quick recognition and ability to snatch the ball out of the air.

His height already means that Stafford has a taller window to hit where the defensive back can't get to the ball, but Johnson's rare ability to use all of his wingspan and adjust with his body control means that this throw is dramatically easier for his quarterback.

This is why being aggressive throwing to Johnson is an absolute must. He completely puts the percentages in the offense's favor. Even though Asomugha intercepted Stafford earlier in this very game when the quarterback forced the pass into double coverage on a seam route, and that was only one of two interceptions forcing the football to Johnson all season long, if the Lions want to get the most out of their offense, they should be looking to get the ball into the hands of their best player much more often.

With a player as big as Johnson, he's listed at 6'5" and 236 pounds, you would expect some rigid movements or loose body control. You wait and wait for an example of his size working against him, but those moments never come. There was one specific play against the Philadelphia Eagles that really showed off how impressive an overall athlete he is.

Johnson looks to run a five yard in route, but Asomugha has safety help so he is aggressive underneath to take that away. After pushing infield for a few steps, Johnson instead abandons his given route and moves backwards. He doesn't turn while within touching distance of Asomugha, as most wide receivers would, instead he sweeps one leg backwards, keeping his eye on the quarterback before moving backwards to get away from the cornerback.

At that point, Johnson keeps moving down field as he spins around while still watching the quarterback.

When the ball leaves the quarterback's hands, he is moving towards the sideline but needs to make a wildly athletic reception to complete the play. He makes that play, despite just coming out of a spin and moving at speed.

There may be quicker possession receivers, faster deep threats and one or two bigger tight ends, but there isn't another athlete in the league who can make this play. In a sense, this play shows off everything that is good about Johnson's skill-set. It is the type of play Matt Waldman tracks in his Boiler Room Series.

Week 7 v Chicago Bears:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.3 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 18.52 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 17.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 14/41.
Types of Routes Run: Six.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 15/26.
Route Depth: 5 Short, 8 Intermediate, 28 Deep.
Double Teams: Three.

Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson, someone who contributed some target data to this piece, recently pointed out that Charles Tillman and Johnson have had some excellent battles in recent times. Tillman is a fantastic cornerback who has the physicality and aggressive style that is needed to make Johnson very uncomfortable. Johnson did relatively well against him within their individual battle, but his overall impact was quelled.

Despite facing off against each other 39 times over their two meetings, the Bears only sent an extra defender Tillman's way on four occasions. Crucially, they didn't overcommit to him at the goal line the way that most teams do.

In the third quarter, the Bears faced two 1st and goals from within two yards of the end zone.

On the first, Johnson ran a slant against Tillman, drawing a pass interference flag, but on the second he showed off why the Bears were smart to trust him in such a scenario.

Johnson simply ran at Tillman's outside shoulder on the next play, something he does very often. This puts him in position to play the football if Stafford just puts it in the air above he and the defender. However, crucially, Tillman has his head turned back towards the quarterback and isn't giving ground to Johnson.

Tillman attacks the football as it arrives in Johnson's hands, making it impossible for Johnson to come away with the touchdown reception. The play resulted in an incompletion and when Joique Bell took the handoff on second down, he fumbled the football away.

Week 8 v Seattle Seahawks:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 4.57 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 15.25 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 16.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 18/38.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 18/20.
Route Depth: 2 Short, 9 Intermediate, 27 Deep.
Double Teams: Two.

According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson dropped 14 passes in 2012. Some of those drops came on easy passes when he was wide open. Those drops were unacceptable lapses in focus or possibly a result of his broken fingers. However, defining drops is difficult and it varies from analyst to analyst. Some sympathy must be had for Johnson because of the situations that many of his drops came in.

Against the Seahawks, Stafford showed off the type of throw that he consistently makes to Johnson over the middle.

Here, Johnson ran an in route from the slot against zone coverage. Stafford throws a wild, inaccurate pass that forces the receiver to fully extend and expose himself to the incoming defender. Using Johnson's height is smart, but using it in this situation puts him at major risk of injury and makes him more susceptible to drops.

Johnson does well to initially make the difficult hands catch as he is fully extended, but he absorbs the hit before losing the football and landing hard on the flat of his back. This may count as a drop, but it's not a reception you would expect even the better receivers in the league to make.

Week 9 v Jacksonville Jaguars:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 4.79 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 15.35 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 10.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 16/25.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 14/11.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 5 Intermediate, 19 Deep.
Double Teams: Seven.

There was little to learn about Johnson in this game. He was too physically gifted for Aaron Ross or Derek Cox to match up with him.

With his frame, it made sense that the Lions looked to use Johnson's blocking on the edge against smaller defensive backs. When he moved into the slot, he was often a key part of any running plays that went to his side, while he regularly led the way on screen plays like the one pictured above.

Although he is a big body, Johnson is not a good blocker. The Lions overused him in that role because he couldn't sustain important blocks on the edge or locate assignments in space consistently. However, when it all came together, the results were brilliant.

Late in the first quarter, Johnson was lined up in the slot to the bottom of the screen. His presence pushed the safety back so much that he is lined up out of the screen, leaving seven defenders in the box against seven blockers.

At the snap, Johnson beats the cornerback inside as he tries to get to Leshoure in the backfield. Johnson is the key block here because there is huge space in the secondary because the safety had dropped so far back before the snap.

Johnson doesn't push the defensive back out of the running lane, but he does enough to obstruct his view of Leshoure. The Lions running-back makes a good step that draws the defensive back downfield, before attacking the lane inside of Johnson to find his way into vast amounts of space.

Week 10 v Minnesota Vikings:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 4.49 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 17.08 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: Two.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 20/36.
Types of Routes Run: Nine.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 24/12.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 3 Intermediate, 32 Deep.
Double Teams: Three.

In his second game against the Vikings, everything clicked the way it's supposed to. By using all the things he had shown in flashes during the previous eight games of the season, Johnson was able to put up huge yardage and consistently come free all over the field. The Lions were more aggressive with him also, as he caught 12 passes with nine targets coming on deep routes. 

Week 11 v Green Bay Packers:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.17 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 13.6 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: Eight.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 21/40.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 10/30.
Route Depth: 3 Short, 7 Intermediate, 30 Deep.
Double Teams: 11.

Johnson finished this game with 143 yards receiving on five receptions, but he could easily have had over 250. Stafford missed him on four deep routes that would have resulted in huge plays if the ball had gone his way. Tramon Williams was responsible for Johnson for most of the game and even though he competed well, he received too much help from his teammates to give up so many deep routes.

Week 12 v Houston Texans:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.45 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 14.08 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 13.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 29/58.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 12/46.
Route Depth: 2 Short, 17 Intermediate, 39 Deep.
Double Teams: 18.

Without number one cornerback Johnathan Joseph, the Texans weren't really able to challenge Johnson. Alan Ball spent most of his day trying to cover him with the help of double teams. Kareem Jackson also helped, and while he competed well, he wasn't able to contain him either.

Week 13 v Indianapolis Colts:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.77 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 13.8 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 14.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 25/40.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 11/29.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 11 Intermediate, 28 Deep.
Double Teams: Five.

Johnson beat Cassius Vaughn for a touchdown in the end zone with a slant, but Stafford threw the ball behind him so much so that it completely took him out of the play. Late in the fourth quarter, he did the same after Johnson beat Vaughn on a double move deep down the sideline.

When Johnson's production wasn't there early in the season, Stafford wasn't pushing the ball in his direction enough. Now that he was, he was missing way too many opportunities for big plays.

Week 14 v Green Bay Packers:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.27 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 14.02 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 20.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 23/40.
Types of Routes Run: 10.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 13/27.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 11 Intermediate, 28 Deep.
Double Teams: Five.

In their second matchup, the Packers focused less on Johnson and asked Williams to cover him on his own more often. The Lions turned down too many opportunities to go to that matchup, instead running the ball too often when there was no safety to Johnson's side of the field.

Week 15 v Arizona Cardinals:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.39 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 14.51 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 22.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 22/42.
Types of Routes Run: 10.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 18/26.
Route Depth: 0 Short, 15 Intermediate, 27 Deep.
Double Teams: 11.

Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton appeared to be trying to confuse the Lions' offense with his defense because there was no real consistency from snap-to-snap. Patrick Peterson was routinely put in single coverage against Johnson all over the field, but despite his physical talents, he couldn't stick to the veteran receiver. On other occasions, Kerry Rhodes would be the primary defender with two defensive backs standing over him at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals used that double-team tactic in the open-field, but not at the goal line.

Johnson finished the game with 10 receptions for 121 yards, but Stafford missed him when he was open in the end zone, instead throwing an interception to Greg Toler.

Week 16 v Atlanta Falcons:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 7.72 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 16.53 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: Six.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 19/40.
Types of Routes Run: Nine.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 32/8.
Route Depth: 1 Short, 7 Intermediate, 32 Deep.
Double Teams: Five.

The Falcons played mostly zone to try and contain Johnson, something they couldn't do as he racked up over 200 yards in receiving. Not everything went the offense's way however, as Stafford threw a wayward pass in his direction that went straight to Asante Samuel for an easy interception. 

Week 17 v Chicago Bears:
Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 6.79 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 15.16 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 10.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 15/36.
Types of Routes Run: Eight.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 21/15.
Route Depth: 2 Short, 9 Intermediate, 25 Deep.
Double Teams: Three.

Tillman should be very happy with how he contained Johnson during this game, but the receiver still managed to finish the game with over 70 yards.

Season Results

Average Depth of Cornerback at Snap: 5.2 yards.
Average Depth of Safety at Snap: 16.1 yards.
Plays Without Safety Help at Snap: 180.
Successful Routes/Total Routes: 307/629(48.8%).
Types of Routes Run: 10.
Zone Plays/Man Plays: 293/336.
Route Depth: 28 Short, 140 Intermediate, 461 Deep.
Double Teams: 109. 
Success v. Man Coverage: 166/336(49.4%)
Success v. Zone Coverage: 141/293(48.1%)
Success v. Double Teams: 33/109(30.3%)


When the Detroit Lions signed Matthew Stafford to another contract extension last week, the football world was somewhat divided. It's easy to get lost in the gaudy numbers on the relatively young quarterback's resume, whether they be his win totals or yards/touchdowns, but it's impossible to ignore the presence of Johnson.

Having Calvin Johnson on your team isn't like having just any elite wide receiver on your team. It's like having a player who is playing a completely different sport. It's not normal to be his size, have his body control and such impeccable technical ability. In a league that is dominated by the quarterback position, he is a great equaliser. Completing passes to him directly is much easier, but completing passes to his teammates and running the ball is made easier also just by his presence.

What really makes Johnson scary is the the offense around him. If you swapped him out for an average receiver, or even a good receiver, the drop-off in overall production would be vast.

The Lions don't appear to have a real identity on offense. They have failed to surround their best player with receivers who can take advantage of the matchups he affords them. Even if everyone had been healthy last season, the Lions would have at best had a supporting cast of Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew. None are bad players, but Best is probably the best receiver and he is a running back.

If Johnson is to really reach his full potential, something that could be a thought that nobody has ever even considered possible before, he needs to be put in a more vertical passing offense. That's not to say that he needs to solely be a deep threat, because he is far from that, but he does need to play in a unit that fits the style of the San Diego Chargers offense in recent years or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense of last season.

Both of those offenses had strong-armed quarterbacks like Stafford, but they focused on pushing the ball down the field to taller, more athletic receivers. Instead of having smaller, quicker receivers and cumbersome but slow tight ends, those offenses had athletes who stretched the coverage further away from their primary objective (the number one receiver).

With a subpar offensive line and slow running backs, it's no surprise that Stafford was one of the quickest quarterbacks in the league last year, getting rid of the football in 2.67 seconds on average. That's fine for an offense that wants to get the ball to Wes Welker or Randall Cobb on every drive, but it's not okay if they want to give Johnson time to get down the field.

There is another line of thinking out there that says Johnson only broke the receiving record because he played on a losing team, a team that benefited from playing against prevent defenses from week-to-week. That's a complete fallacy. Johnson played 1,181 total snaps last season, 1,143 of those plays qualified as non-prevent plays.

NFL fans are blessed with special players across a variety of positions in the league right now. They are also blessed with a supremely gifted group of wide receivers with players such as Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall, Steve Smith, Reggie Wayne, Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Percy Harvin, Andre Johnson, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston and so many more.

It's a testament to how special a player Calvin Johnson is that he is almost universally recognized as the best in the league. Outside of Larry Fitzgerald and maybe A.J. Green in a year or two, an argument can be made that nobody is even close.

You can follow Cian Fahey on twitter @Cianaf