The prospect of wide receiver Calvin Johnson retiring quite likely had Vic Fangio, Kyle Fuller and every other individual involved in NFC North pass defense allowing at least a little relaxed exhale Sunday night. It should be more than a little one.
The epitome of a consistent professional, Johnson averaged 5.6 catches in his 17 games against the Bears and 16 against the Green Bay Packers, 5.4 in his 15 vs. the Minnesota Vikings. Those are just about equal to the 5.4 per game league-wide for his career.
“He’s a great receiver,” Fangio said last season while preparing to defend against him. “He’s a tough matchup because of his size and speed and strength. And they’ve thrown him the ball down the field. Even though you might have tight coverage, Stafford feels comfortable throwing him the balls that he might outfight the game with his size.”
But the greater impact will be where it matters most – on the scoreboard.
Johnson averaged a touchdown every 8.8 receptions for his career. Compare that to Larry Fitzgerald (one every 10.4), Alshon Jeffery (one every 10.5) or Brandon Marshall (one every 11.2). Johnson scored one TD every nine catches vs. Minnesota, one every six vs. Green Bay and one every 8.7 vs. the Bears.
The loss of Johnson equates roughly to what Jordy Nelson’s missed season meant to the Packers, who got a touchdown every 8.2 Nelson catches. Not solely because of Nelson’s absence, obviously, but the Packers were No. 1 in scoring in 2014 and 15th last season.
[SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]
The Lions were middle-of-the-pack offensively last season with Johnson starting 16 games, albeit with myriad injuries. Without him…? Golden Tate caught a career-best 90 passes last year, with defenses needing to account heavily for Johnson.
Randall Cobb caught 91 passes in 2014 with Nelson. His production dipped to 79 catches without Nelson and his yards per catch were a career-low 10.5.