The Tale of the Tape: Alshon Jeffery vs. Calvin Johnson

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterSeptember 1, 2011

COLUMBIA, SC - OCTOBER 30:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Tennessee Volunteers during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

What defines a great wide receiver prospect? The player must be big enough to beat press coverages and fast enough to break a defense down with his ability to run after the catch. A great wide receiver has to be quick enough to create the inches of separation needed to beat his man. Fast, strong, focused—these are words we use to describe the best wide receiver prospects.

As we continue to look at the best prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft, how does top wide receiver prospect Alshon Jeffery compare with one of college football’s most elite receivers of all time? We break down Jeffery’s game in comparison to 2007 NFL Draft prospect and NFL Pro Bowler, Calvin Johnson.

Grading Scale Requirements

All college players who are scouted during the regular season are graded on a fixed scale. Players must hit requirements before I write a scouting report—minimum three games viewed live or on film, at least a redshirt sophomore and they must be in my top 200 players. Each player is graded overall and per the traits that make up his position. For example, wide receivers are graded on hands, speed, route-running, size, etc.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 02:  Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson #21 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets warms up prior to a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship on December 2, 2006 at Alltel Stadium in
Marc Serota/Getty Images

The Grading Scale

 Draft Profile         
10 No. 1 overall pick Elite, once-in-a-decade player
9.5-9.9 Top 5 Pick Exceptional, difference-maker early
9.0-9.4 Top 10 Pick Excellent, rookie starter
8.5-8.9 Top 25 Pick Special, rookie starter
8.0-8.4 Top 32 Pick First-rate, rookie starter/contributor
7.5-7.9 Top 50 Pick Very good, rookie starter/contributor
7.0-7.4 Top 64 Pick Very good, rookie starter/contributor
6.5-6.9 Top 75 Pick Good
6.0-6.4 Top 100 Pick Average
5.5-5.9 Top 125 Pick Average with issues
5.0-5.4 Top 175 Pick Average with issues
4.5-4.9 Top 250 Pick Borderline NFL talent
4.0-4.4 Priority Undrafted FA Below average
3.5-3.9 Street Free Agent Marginal
3.0-3.4 Camp Body Marginal
2.5-2.9 AFL/UFL/CFL Inferior
2.4 < Reject Unworthy


Jeffery: 9.1 | Johnson: 9.1

Johnson was an unbelievable talent upon leaving Georgia Tech. For a player of his size (6'5", 239 lbs) he ran a jaw-dropping 4.35 in the 40-yard dash. Johnson’s speed and numbers were off the charts, but in terms of pure burst he was "just" above average. Johnson is one of the fastest wide receivers to enter the NFL in some time, but his first five yards are not as impressive as DeSean Jackson or Percy Harvin.

Jeffery is able to accelerate off the line in a hurry—that’s not an issue—his initial burst off the snap compares very well to what Johnson displayed coming out of Georgia Tech. Jeffery shows more quick twitch, raw burst in his takeoff than Johnson, but is not as fast in those first five yards. It’s a push.


Jeffery: 8.2 | Johnson: 9.5

Playing in a run-first system at Georgia Tech, Johnson had to learn to be a reliable blocker on the outside to propel the running game to the edge. Jeffery is no slouch himself, but he has not shown the aggression that made Johnson an elite college blocker.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Catch in Traffic

Jeffery: 9.6 | Johnson: 9.1

Having a huge frame and big hands definitely helps both players here. Johnson was surprisingly single-covered often during his junior season, largely due to the threat of the running game and the fact that most passes came to him hot off the snap of the ball. Johnson showed great ability to separate from defenders by using his body and his long arms.

Jeffery is very similar, if not better than Megatron when it comes to catching in traffic. The Gamecocks use Jeffery more up-field than Johnson was used during his 2006 season, which creates more double coverage and bracket looks that he must deal with. Credit some of this to the improvement of NCAA offenses, as more teams are now throwing the ball downfield. Jeffery, like Johnson, has long arms and big, strong hands. His concentration is on another level altogether, making him a threat even in double and triple coverage.

Deep Speed

Jeffery: 9.0 | Johnson: 9.4

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 3:  Wide receiver Calvin Johnson #21 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fails to catch a pass in the end zone against defensive back Patrick Lee #20 of the Auburn Tigers in the fourth quarter on September 3, 2005 at Jordan-Hare Stad
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Calvin Johnson was fast, and I mean fast, when he put on the pads for Georgia Tech. Where Johnson may have lacked the burst of a smaller receiver, his stride and strength made him a fast runner once he got going. Johnson was able to eat up yards after the snap with his sprinter-like speed. Johnson easily ran past corners he faced in college once his momentum got going.

There are going to be concerns about Jeffery’s speed until the day he runs his 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. I have seen estimates ranging from 4.65 all the way down to 4.46 with Jeffery, and anywhere in between is possible. Game film shows he can run away from talented cornerbacks—like Dre Kirkpatrick—without issue.

Field Vision

Jeffery: 9.1 | Johnson: 9.5

The ability to not only see what the defense is doing pre-snap, but to also make moves in the open field once you are running your route and then once you catch the ball is an underrated skill for potential NFL receivers. These two players do it better than most.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks pulls in this reception against Greg Reid #5 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Johnson was great at recognizing what the defense was doing, whether that was press coverage or a soft zone. He also did a great job of seeing where the safety was once his route started and was able to cushion himself from big blows downfield by recognizing where the safety was.

Jeffery shows the same downfield potential, but he also excels as a runner underneath the coverage. Jeffery is more dangerous with the ball in his hands than Johnson was while at Georgia Tech because he sees the field faster and is better able to interpret running lanes.


Jeffery: 9.7 | Johnson: 9.9

Jeffrey has become well-known among football fans for his one-handed catches and highlight-worthy plays. Jeffery does a nice job looking the ball in to his hands and securing the catch. You will not see many drops from either of these wideouts. Jeffery is also a wonderful sideline/boundary receiver, as his concentration and hand strength make him reliable on the edge.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 11: Calvin Johnson #21 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets runs on the field during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on November 11, 2006 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Georgia Tech defeated UNC 7-0
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Johnson, as you may have already noticed, had very few flaws entering the NFL draft. Johnson’s big, strong hands were almost a guarantee to catch everything thrown his way. Whether it was running deep or flashing to the quarterback across a zone, Johnson caught them all. Playing with an erratic quarterback at Georgia Tech helped showcase Johnson’s ability to adjust to poorly-thrown balls and still make the catch.

Leaping Ability

Jeffery: 9.5 | Johnson: 10

A 43" vertical never hurts. That’s what Johnson put up at the NFL Scouting Combine, cementing himself as one of the best athletes to play the position during our generation. Johnson had a knack for using his arms when he jumped to push the defender away and gain separation (he could also flat-out jump over them to high-point the ball).

Jeffery has had no trouble out-jumping the best cornerbacks the SEC has to offer or jumping to catch the ball with defenders draped all over him. Jeffery has the strength to be a very dangerous deep ball player.

JACKSONVILLE, FL - DECEMBER 02:  Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson #21 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets warms up with quarterback Taylor Bennett #13 prior to a game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship on De
Marc Serota/Getty Images

Lateral Quickness

Jeffery: 9.4 | Johnson: 8.7

You can see it when Jeffery jukes out a defensive back in the open field or makes an acrobatic move to the sideline. His ability to flow from left to right makes him a dangerous route-runner and an even more dangerous receiver after the catch.

Johnson, at times, would look stiff. He was clearly faster than the defense, but he rarely made moves that left you shaking your head. Jeffery does.

Press Coverage

Jeffery: 9.5 | Johnson: 9.2

Neither player is afraid to get physical at the line of scrimmage—something I love in a wide receiver. Jeffery dominated former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins at the line, and Jenkins was one of the best press cover men in the game. He is tough enough to take a jam to the face and keep going.
There is fight in Jeffery, and that’s what you need to succeed in the NFL.

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 31:  Alshon Jeffery #1 of the South Carolina Gamecocks against Terrance Parks #4 of the Florida State Seminoles during the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl at Georgia Dome on December 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Calvin Johnson was so big and so intimidating that defenses never really tried jamming him. The talent was there, but we hadn’t seen it yet, as no one was crazy enough to try and jam a receiver built like this.


Jeffery: 9.3 | Johnson: 8.7

Johnson was used on a number of screen plays and bubble routes designed to get him the ball as fast as possible, and to allow him to work in space. As far as being a true technician in route-running, Johnson was more of an unfinished product when he entered the NFL. Of course, having massive size and speed definitely helped mask some weaknesses here. A common knock on Johnson coming out of Georgia Tech was that he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, run over the middle. This was something that plagued his pre-draft visits and workouts.

Jeffery is used as more of an all-around receiver. He will run more deep routes than anything and works particularly well on comeback routes. Jeffery also works in a more complex passing system under Steve Spurrier, making him more NFL-ready to devour a playbook and passing tree. Jeffery does a great job setting up cornerbacks. See his performance against potential Top 10 draft prospect Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama for examples where Jeffery torched him for two touchdowns.

Run after Catch

Jeffery: 9.6 | Johnson: 9.6

This is an area where both players are very dominant, especially compared to the competition. Both Johnson and Jeffery have a unique make-up of speed, size and strength that makes them hard to tackle in the open field, as well as hard to catch. Each player has been utilized in offensive systems designed to get them the ball in space, whether that be on a bubble screen or a quick slant over the middle.

Neither player would be considered elusive, but their ability to outrun defenses and use their size in the open field makes them equally dangerous any time the ball is in their hands.


Jeffery: 10 | Johnson: 10

Calvin Johnson came into the NFL as one of the most impressive physical specimens I had ever seen. He still is. At 6'5" and 239 lbs of ripped muscle, Johnson was truly a man among boys. Jeffery, at 6'4" and 233 lbs, is the closest thing to Calvin Johnson the NFL draft world has seen since the 2007 NFL Draft.

Both players use their size well, which is really the only reason you worry about height with receivers. Johnson became very well-known for his ability to separate from defensive backs by using his hands and long arms to generate a cushion. You can start to see Jeffery doing the same things at USC.

Track Ball

Jeffery: 9.2 | Johnson: 9.6

Johnson had a great feel for where the ball was going, and he could adjust and manipulate his body in a way that made catching even poorly-underthrown balls look easy.

Jeffery benefits from playing with a much better quarterback. When Jeffery runs deep he can trust that his quarterback is putting the ball where it’s supposed to go, making his job easier. That’s not to say he’s not great at tracking the ball—he is.

Zone Routes

Jeffery: 9.1 | Johnson: 9.6

Zone routes are incredibly important to the NFL game, but not something you see at every college. Thankfully for scouts, both Johnson and Jeffery were exposed to the idea of finding the soft spot in the zone and sitting down in it.

Johnson did this better than any college receiver I have seen. His feel for the coverage and ability to fake cornerbacks into thinking he was running deep were textbook perfect. Johnson knew how to use his body to trick the coverage into thinking he was running through their zone when he was really sitting in the hole waiting for the ball. Jeffery runs more of his zone routes going across the field, something Johnson was never asked to do. Jeffery may be better prepared for the NFL because of this, but he’s not on the same level as Johnson—yet.


Jeffery: 9.2 | Johnson: 9.8

Coming out of college, the only question I had about Calvin Johnson was his ability to run NFL-level routes. He was such a huge player compared to the opposition that you had to worry about the fact that he was playing against lesser cornerbacks each week. The measurables were off the charts, the film was off the charts, his character was off the charts—Johnson was everything you wanted in a wide receiver.

Jeffery is a tremendous athlete, a dangerous player with the ball in his hands and a great deep threat. He’s as close to Johnson as we’ve seen in college football over the last five years. That being said, Jeffery needs to back up his breakout 2010 season with another big year. If he can prove he’s the nation’s No. 1 receiver with the pressure and attention he’s received this summer, I’ll feel safe calling him a lock for the Top 10 picks.


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