Calvin Johnson won’t break Jerry Rice’s record

Dan Talintyre Roar Guru

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Calvin “Megatron” Johnson had one heck of a season last year. Having finished top of the table in almost every statistical category known to man, Johnson can look back on the 2011-12 season as one of great personal success.

He would have loved for the Detroit Lions to go deep into the playoffs and would have given anything to play another week of football. But Johnson’s numbers were nevertheless incredible.

With the combination with Matthew Stafford appearing set for many years to come, the question that must be asked is whether Megatron can back it up next season.

If you watched him play at all in the season just finished, the answer must surely be yes. Surely Calvin Johnson will be the best receiver in the National Football League in 2012-13. Surely he will lead the league in receiving yards and touchdowns.

One must also wonder whether Jerry Rice’s long-standing record of 1848 receiving yards in a regular season is safe from the magic hands of Megatron?

Could Johnson be the first man to chalk up over 2000 receiving yards for the season? Is it possible?

Well, before we get to carried away with the idea of Megatron 2000 (which I’m sure would retail for around $29.99), we must have a proper look at the numbers around Jerry Rice’s spectacular season, Calvin Johnson’s season gone by and the likelihood that he can chalk up similar numbers next year.

Let’s start with Rice, who is one of the greatest receivers of all time — if not the greatest. His 1995 season with the San Francisco 49ers saw him take 122 catches for 1848 yards at an average of 15.1 yards per catch.

His combination with quarterbacks Steve Young and Elvis Grbac saw him take in 28.3 per cent of his team’s total catches, for 39 per cent of their total receiving yards.

The 2011 season for Calvin Johnson yielded 1681 yards from just 96 receptions, at an average of 17.5 yards per reception—a number significantly higher than Rice.

Megatron took in 22.8 percent of catches for the Lions and accounted for 33.4 of their total receiving yards, leaving a 10.5 per cent gap between catches and yards—almost identical to the catches/yards gap of Jerry Rice.

But looking at those numbers, it’s easy to see why Jerry Rice’s record is still a long way ahead of Calvin Johnson, despite his brilliant receiving abilities.

Firstly, the Detroit Lions’ schedule in 2011 was significantly easier than that of the San Fransisco 49ers in 1995 as they played against sides that allowed more passing yards. The Lions played against 13 teams in the bottom half of the league for passing yards allowed, whereas the 49ers only played against ten.

Secondly, despite having two quarterbacks as opposed to just the one the San Francisco 49ers had a higher completion rate across the board, meaning that Jerry Rice was in turn going to have more receptions. Young and Grbac combined for a completion rate of 67.6 per cent as opposed to the 63.5 percent put up by Matthew Stafford.

Thirdly, Jerry Rice took significantly more catches than Calvin Johnson. The distance between the two at the end of the season was only 167 yards, but it was also 26 receptions. And when you consider that these two guys are going at a rate of more than 15 yards per catch, those 26 receptions may account for up to 400 receiving yards.

Furthermore, in comparison to their teams’ total receptions, Rice was thrown the ball more frequently, taking in 28.3 percent of his team’s total receptions as opposed to the 22.8 that Johnson received.

Thus unless Calvin Johnson manages to find more receptions, he will not break Jerry Rice’s receiving record and he will definitely not crack the 2000-yard mark.

Interestingly, at his average of 17.5 yards per catch Johnson would have broken both of those marks – with a total of 2,085 receiving yards – had he too recorded Rice’s 122 receptions.

However, Johnson will usually face double coverage and safety help and will struggle to see the same number of receptions as Rice, even in this quarterback-dominated league.

And he definitely won’t be breaking that mark in 2012-13, as he will be hard pressed to chalk up another 1600-plus yard season considering the schedule that the Lions will face.

Detroit will face Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago all twice, and Calvin Johnson is more likely to put up 100-yard plus games against these three relatively exposed defensive units.

However, the Lions must also face teams from the AFC North and the NFC East this year, as well as two teams from the AFC East, and this will make their schedule tougher than it was in 2011.

They must face off against defensive powerhouses in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Baltimore and Cincinnati, as well as Philadelphia and Washington — all of which finished in the top 12 for receiving yards allowed during the 2011 regular season.

It’s not the toughest schedule ever seen in the NFL, but it definitely isn’t the easiest. Most importantly, it definitely isn’t as easy as what the Detroit Lions faced during 2011-12.

Calvin Johnson will probably have another season where he leads the league in receiving yards and will most likely lead the league in touchdowns again. But it would take a brave man to predict him to break Jerry Rice’s record, let alone the magical 2000-yard mark.

It’s a shame, too; Megatron 2000 would be a sweet name for a toy.

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