It’s not often the second overall pick in the NFL draft can be thought of as a value, but in his career with the Detroit Lions, Calvin Johnson often broke the mold.
As Pro Football Focus recently showed, he’s doing it again. The site recently took a look at picking out every team’s top value pick since 2006 in the draft, and perhaps surprisingly, Johnson surfaced as the answer for the team.
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Writer Michael Renner took a look at putting together this list for every team in the league. When it came to the Lions, Johnson was the pick. As Renner wrote, Johnson managed to impress at every turn from start to finish.
“The second overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft still providing the best return on investment is partly an indictment of how the Lions have drafted, but it’s mostly an indication of how special Johnson was throughout his career. He averaged 81 catches, 1,291 yards and nine touchdowns per year for his entire career,” Renner wrote.
Johnson being the answer to this for the Lions might only prove how bad the team has been through the years mining gold as Renner points out in his analysis, but it’s also a tribute to his overall talent on the field. The fact he was picked high and exceeded expectations is a rare feat in the NFL, where busts also come about, especially early in the draft.
Johnson Makes Case as Best Lions Draft Pick Ever/h2>
So who is the best Lions draft pick that went on to become a home-grown star? Most will say it’s Barry Sanders after being selected third overall in 1989, and that is a good answer thanks to what Sanders was able to do through the years. He was arguably a top-three NFL running back, and a few teams passed on him early on. Sanders clearly excelled in a huge way.
Johnson, however, was a much riskier selection for Detroit at the time he was picked, which may enhance his standing in this exercise. The Lions had a reputation at the time of selecting wideouts in the draft and watching them bust as had happened with Charles Rogers in 2002 and Mike Williams in 2005.
Coming off picking Roy Williams in 2007, it was a calculated gamble to go with Johnson at the position again, but it paid off. The wideout ended up redefining what it meant to be a wide receiver in the NFL. To that end, he’s right up there with Sanders in terms of the best picks of all time for the franchise. Certainly, he did return the investment the team made on him tenfold.
Johnson’s Career Stats & Highlights
Since he came into the league with the Lions in 2007, Johnson wasted little time putting up great plays and amazing statistics. In his career, Johnson put up 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns and more than that, was a human highlight reel unlike any other receiver on the list.
Out of Georgia Tech, Johnson was labeled as one of the freakiest players in the draft and he lived up to that distinction in the NFL. Here’s a reminder of his talent:
Johnson shattered Rice’s record of 1,848 receiving yards during the 2012 season and was a stable force for the team, often playing through pain and discomfort on the field. He walked away following the 2015 season, leaving a gaping hole in Detroit’s wideout group.
Since Johnson has been embroiled in a feud with the Lions for the last few seasons over money that the team made him pay back upon retirement. Things may have slowed up recently on that front, however.
It might sound odd to say, but the Lions may have managed their best steal ever when they drafted Johnson early in 2007.
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