Nationals

Lions WR Johnson has chance to break a Rice record

Lions WR Johnson has chance to break a Rice record

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) The slumping Detroit Lions are rallying around Calvin Johnson, hoping he breaks Jerry Rice's NFL record for yards receiving in a season.

``It's definitely something that I take joy in that my teammates are right behind me on this thing,'' Johnson said Thursday after catching footballs from a machine in a post-practice drill. ``They want me to get it as much as I want to get it.''

Maybe more.

The Lions (4-9) don't have much else to root for this year, entering Sunday's game at Arizona (4-9) in a matchup of teams tied for the worst record in the NFC. Detroit has dropped five straight and will finish the season with a losing record one year after winning 10 games and breaking the team's 11-year postseason drought.

That leave Johnson's shot to make history a potential source of pride for the Lions.

``We have to hang our hat on something this year,'' Lions center Dominic Raiola said. ``I think it would be awesome for him to do it. I'd love to be able to say I was on the team and helped him do it.''

Despite often facing double- and triple-coverage and losing the other top three players at his position on the team, Johnson has a league-high 1,546 yards receiving. With three games left, he is 303 yards from breaking Rice's single-season mark of 1,848 yards receiving set in 1995 with the San Francisco 49ers.

``If it happens, that would be fantastic,'' Johnson said. ``It's definitely something I'd love to have.''

And, his teammates want him to have it.

Johnson's talents and humble ways helped him get a $132 million, eight-year contract in the offseason, entering the last season of the deal he got when Detroit drafted him out of Georgia Tech with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He is easy to root for.

``He's so down to earth,'' said tight end Tony Scheffler, one of several Lions to describe him in the exact same way this week. ``It doesn't matter if you're the janitor or Jim Schwartz, he says hi and bye when you enter and leave the room.

``I've seen him before and after he got paid, and nothing has changed. He's just a great human being and I think he's the best player in the NFL, which is a pretty remarkable combination.''

Johnson combines size, strength, speed, hands and relentless work ethic in a way few can. The 6-foot-5, 236-pound receiver dubbed Megatron has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, has done a 45-inch vertical leap and works out constantly, as if his job is in jeopardy.

Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald has arguably been the best at his position over the last several years, but he wouldn't make that argument. Fitzgerald called Johnson ``the best in the business,'' and explained why he heaped that kind of praise on an opponent.

``He's very consistent, does it week in and week out against the most exotic defensive coverages the league has seen,'' Fitzgerald said. ``He's the most dynamic player, receiver, since Randy Moss. He really has no physical weaknesses. He does it all.''

This season, he's had to.

Receivers Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles have all been put on injured reserve. Kris Durham got his first NFL start in last Sunday's game at Green Bay and the other lackluster options were Mike Thomas, Brian Robiskie, Lance Long and Kassim Osgood.

``Calvin has picked up a lot of slack,'' Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. ``We've played him at a lot of different positions and I don't think he gets credit for how versatile he is. He plays probably three or four positions. It's even real common for him to do that even within a drive.''

Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson doesn't sound worried. Peterson said he hopes to cover Johnson one on one as much as possible in a challenge he's been looking forward to since the NFL schedule was released.

``It's definitely going to be a fun matchup and a matchup I've been waiting for pretty much all year,'' Peterson said. ``I want to see how I match up against one of the top guys in the league.''

Peterson ranked Johnson as the second-best receiver in the NFL, behind Fitzgerald, and boasted that he's the best cornerback in the NFL.

``Me and Calvin, we're the same caliber players, just he's a receiver and I'm a DB,'' he said. ``He likes the physical aspect of the game and, you know, that's something I like to do as well. I'm going to challenge him at the line.''

NOTES: Lions DT Nick Fairley (shoulder) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (ankle) didn't practice Thursday after both were injured against the Packers. ... CB Louis Delmas (knee), CB Chris Houston (hamstring) and CB Jacob Lacey (foot) were limited in practice after being held out of Wednesday's workout because of injuries.

---

AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Tempe, Ariz., contributed to this report.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Larry Lage on Twitter:http://twitter.com/larrylage

Quick Links

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

sotogood.jpg
USA Today Sports Images

Is Juan Soto a lock for National League Rookie of the Year?

In April, it would have been unfathomable. In May, it would have been laughable. In June, it would have been improbable. In July, it started to look possible. In August, it might even have been likely. Now, it’s a complete toss-up.

Juan Soto is the worthiest National League Rookie of the Year. So is Ronald Acuna.

It’s one of the most exciting rookie races in recent memory, not simply for the otherworldly numbers each freshman sensation is putting up, but for just how good they are at such young ages. Juan Soto is a jaw-dropping 19. Acuna, by comparison, is the wizened veteran at the old age of.. 20. 

The two are preternaturally talented, and their mature-beyond-their-years games have translated perfectly well to the big leagues. The question now is: which one will actually take home the hardware?

(Before we continue, I’ll note that Jack Flaherty, Brian Anderson, and Walker Buehler are all very talented young players who would at least be in the conversation in normal years).

The first step is to look at the numbers.

On the season Acuna is slashing .287/.347/.571, and his wRC+ is 144. He’s got 19 home runs and 8 stolen bases in just 68 games and his fWAR is 2.3. bWAR has him at 2.8

Soto’s slash line is currently .293/.420/.534, to go along with 15 home runs. His wRC+ is 153, and his fWAR is 2.7. His bWAR sits at 2.2.

Obviously, the numbers are terrific for both. Acuna has been up longer, but thanks to injury Soto has actually played 8 more games. Acuna has the edge in power, both in home runs and slugging percentage, plus he’s clearly the speedier player and better defender. If you’re looking for all-around game, he’s probably your man. Plus, for those who care about such things when voting on awards, the Braves are several games ahead of the Nats in the standings.

However, Soto’s performance has a couple things going for it. First of all, as impressive as it is that Acuna is taking the league by storm as a 20-year old, Soto is nearly a full year younger. It cannot be overemphasized how wild it is what Soto is doing as a teenager. He may very well be the greatest teenage batter in baseball history.

Secondly, Soto has been incredibly consistent. He’s basically been an All-Star level hitter since the day he was called up in May, whereas Acuna’s numbers, while very legitimate, are buoyed by his recent hot streak. He’s hit 8 home runs in 8 games, and of every hitter with at least 100 plate appearances since the All-Star Game, he has the highest wRC+ in that span. He’s had plenty of valleys to his peaks, though, and Soto has been a model of consistency. Of all hitters with at 200 at-bats this entire season, Soto ranks 7th over the entire season, That’s astounding.

Another point in Soto’s favor is just how historic his numbers are. Voters love a narrative, and as mentioned above, Soto is having literally the best offensive season a teenager has ever had. The highest wRC+ by a 19-year old in baseball history in Mel Ott with a 140 exactly 90 seasons ago. Soto is beating that by 13 so far.

The true separator, though, is Soto’s on-base percentage. His .420 mark is a comfortable 4th of all players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind elite batting eyes Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Joey Votto. And, once again, we’re talking about something historic.

Soto’s .420 on-base percentage, if it holds, will be the only OBP over .400 for a teenager with 200 plate appearances in Major League history. In fact, outside of Ott’s .397 in 1928, no other teenager has ever reached base at a .360 clip, let alone Soto’s astronomical .420.

Ultimately, I believe more in Acuna’s future, but I think Soto’s been the better player this season. Acuna is more well-rounded, but Soto’s elite batting eye has made him a top 10 hitter in baseball already. If Soto had been up on Opening Day and played at this level, he’d be on pace for a 5.5 WAR, which would top even Bryce Harper’s 2012 season.

As mentioned, voters love a narrative though, and if Acuna comes back from his injury and stays as hot as he’s been all August, it’ll be tough to ignore his performance during the Braves’ stretch run. This award is not over, but for now, Soto should be considered the favorite.

MORE NATS NEWS: 

Quick Links

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Need to Know: Redskins stock up, stock down after Jets game

Here is what you need to know on Friday, August 16, seven days before the Washington Redskins host the Broncos in their third preseason game. 

Talking points

Here are some players who saw their stock go up during Thursday's preseason game against the Jets and others who experienced a stock drop

Up—Rookie nose tackle Tim Settle had himself another big game. The difference this time was that most of his snaps came against the Jets starting offensive line as opposed to the Patriots’ backups he saw last week. He mauled ex-Redskins center Spencer Long a few times and he moved over to tackle in a four-man front to generate some pass pressure. He is still learning. 

Down—Backup center Tony Bergstrom was physically manhandled a couple of times, making things difficult for Colt McCoy, some running backs, and Kevin Hogan. He also committed a flagrant holding penalty that negated a good Hogan run for the first down. His roster spot does not appear to be in any danger, but he has to do better.

Up—Cornerback Danny Johnson had some pressure dropped on him when the team cut Orlando Scandrick, moving Johnson from roster long shot to a player who may have to be counted on. He played well, making a key play in the second quarter. On third down, he made a good tackle to stop a third-down play short of the sticks. He knocked the ball out of the runner’s hands, but a quick whistle negated the turnover. 

Up/Down—Wide receiver Cam Sims had some wild swings. In the second quarter, he was open in the red zone and McCoy put a perfect pass into his arms. But the ball popped out and was intercepted. Turnovers will get rookie free agents cut. Sims made up for it later in the game with a key third-down catch later in the second quarter. Later, in the last seconds of the game, he pulled in a 20-yard pass to set up Dustin Hopkins’ game-winning field goal. In between, he grabbed a touchdown pass between two defenders, but that play was negated by an illegal formation penalty. 

Down—You hate to see a player’s stock go down due in part to an injury, but that’s what happened with Byron Marshall. Even though he is OK, he left the game early, opening the door for Kapri Bibbs, his main competition for the fourth roster spot at running back, to have a good night. Bibbs caught seven passes for 47 yards. Before he left the game, Marshall put the ball on the ground on a kickoff return. Although replay showed that he was down by contact before fumbling it was close enough to cause concern. The competition for the fourth running back spot is tighter now than it was before the game. 

Up—Rookie safety Troy Apke had three tackles and he picked off a fourth-down Sam Darnold pass. Deshazor Everett gets an assist on the pick as he batted the pass up in the air. Apke is still has a lot to learn before he makes the transition from being a fast guy to being a good NFL player. 

Down—Linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton had a chance to make a key third-down sack off Teddy Bridgewater that would have killed a fourth-quarter drive. But he went to the ground and missed the sack and Bridgewater made the completion to keep the drive alive. Hamilton gets credit for getting into the backfield, but he didn’t seal the deal. 

Bureau of statistics

Here are two preseason stats with the caveat that they are preseason stats. 1). In the first halves of their two preseason games with both sides playing mostly their first- and second-team players, the Redskins have outscored the opposition 26-6. 2). The Redskins have 216 rushing yards through two games. Last year they rushed for 103 yards in their first two preseason games. 

Trending on social

The agenda

Today: Off day

Upcoming: Preseason Broncos @ Redskins (Aug. 24) 7 days; Final cut (Sept. 1) 15 days; Season opener @ Cardinals (Sept. 9) 23 days

In case you missed it

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page,Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler