By Price Burton
CBS 62 / CW50 Intern
As the NFL top 100 countdown heads down to the final top ten players, Lions fans should be proud to know that their own Calvin Johnson will be one of them. This is an honor because it’s voted on by his peers. It’s the highest honor bestowed on a player. Calvin has always been known to be among the games elites at the Wide Receiver position, but it wasn’t till last year that he had an elite quarterback to get him the ball. A full season of Matthew Stafford has helped Calvin immensely. His game has gone to the next level. Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and came close to breaking Dan Marino’s passing record set in 1984 at 5,084 passing yards. If it wasn’t for Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints shattering the record with 5,476 yards and 46 touchdowns, Stafford would have went down as having one of the best single seasons in NFL history with 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
Calvin was a big part of that as he hauled down 96 catches for 1,681 yards. He was also motivated by analysts. Chris Carter of ESPN said that he wasn’t among the game’s five best receivers. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan of the Dallas Cowboys said he would be the third best receiver on the Cowboys. That said, Calvin went on to catch 8 balls for 96 yards and two touchdowns against the Cowboys … including the game winner with less than two minutes to go. The Lions would come back to win from a 27-3 deficit to beat Dallas which gave them their first 3-0 start in over 20 years and helped propel them to the postseason for the first time in 11 years.
The level of respect that Calvin has gained from the players has not gone unnoticed, because his own team the Detroit Lions gave Calvin the richest deal in NFL History for a receiver with an 8 year deal worth $132 million with $60 million guaranteed. It’s safe to say that Calvin will be a Lion for life, and we can look forward to see him wearing the Honolulu Blue for years to come. He will go down as the greatest Detroit Lion in history when all is said and done, that’s saying something considering the Lions had the greatest running back to ever play the game in Barry Sanders. Barry would have broken Walter Payton’s single season rushing record and was only a little over 1,000 yards from the record. The problem when Barry played with the Lions is they didn’t win, something that with Calvin as the lead man Detroit will do more of than they ever have in the history of the franchise.
Where Calvin will rank in the top 10 is totally up for debate, but it should be noted that I will be completely shocked if he isn’t ranked the best receiver by his peers. The list of players who are in the top is set, if you have watched the previous episodes you know the elite players that haven’t been ranked yet. The players that will comprise the list are as follows Drew Brees (QB) New Orleans Saints, Tom Brady (QB) New England Patriots, Aaron Rogers (QB) Green Bay Packers, and Adrian Peterson (RB) Minnesota Vikings, Larry Fitzgerald (WR) Arizona Cardinals, Patrick Willis (MLB) San Francisco 49ers, Darelle Revis (CB) New York Jets, Haloti Ngata (NG) Baltimore Ravens, Demarcus Ware (OLB) Dallas Cowboys, and last but not least Detroit’s own Megatron.
If you look at last year’s top 10 it’s safe to say that a quarterback will be number #1. Tom Brady was chosen as the league’s best last year. It wouldn’t be surprising if that was the case this year. Offensive players tend to get more publicity than defensive players because they’re more flashy and make more highlight reels — that alone will give Calvin a great chance of being top 5. Don’t get me wrong — the defensive players on the list are outstanding, but as long as the game of football has been played your average fans usually prefer watching offense over defense. The other two offensive players on the list, that aren’t QBs, that could possibly be in the top five are Adrian Peterson (RB) of the Minnesota Vikings and Larry Fitzgerald (WR) of the Arizona Cardinals.
Larry Fitzgerald would have a better chance, in my opinion, of being in the top 5 over Adrian Peterson because of his durability. Fitzgerald played in all 16 games and had 80 receptions for over 1,400 yards with 8 touchdowns. With his 1,411 yards he ranked 4th in the league this past season. Peterson did have a great year in 2011 in terms of production as he averaged 4.7 yards a carry which was the third highest of his career. It’s also impressive to think that he rushed for 970 yards on only 208 carries, but because he didn’t play every game like Fitzgerald, Peterson likely will be ranked below him.
This list can sometimes be confusing as everyone wonders what the criteria are and how the ranking is determined. It’s the top 100 players in the NFL for the 2011 season voted on by the players. It’s where they rank heading into the 2012 season, this would be a great accomplishment for Calvin Johnson and the Detroit Lions for that matter if he were to be in the top 5.
Not since Barry Sanders retired before the 1999 season have the Lions had a bona fide superstar. All that has changed — now we have three. Calvin is the best player in the game, but he likely won’t be #1. Matthew Stafford is one of the up and comers and it’s only a matter of time before he’s in the top 10 discussion. Matthew Stafford was number #41 this year on the list ranking as the number 7 QB in the league. On the defensive side the Lions have a monster on the D-Line by the name of Ndamukong Suh. Last season he may have had made as many headlines off the field as he did on it. He was still voted the number #38 player by his peers.
Calvin can do things that no player in the league can do at his position. He single-handedly won the Lions a few games last year, and whenever Stafford was in trouble he knew that he could always throw the ball up to Calvin and he would come down with it. Calvin will be in the top 5. If not this year then the next. The more important point is that Calvin Johnson plays for the Detroit Lions, and Lions fans should be happy. There isn’t another player like him.
Here’s my projected top 10 — or at least how I think things should shake out.
#10.) Haloti Ngata (NG) Baltimore Ravens – He plays a position that doesn’t get a lot of glory. He does his job as well as anyone in the league and is often the first player that opposing offensive coach’s game plan for when scheming against the Ravens. You’re wondering how I can say that when the Ravens have three other Hall of Fame players in Ray Lewis (MLB), Terrell Suggs (OLB), and Ed Reed (FS) on their Defense? The three are starting to get a little long in the tooth and can only play for so many more years. Also all three have injury concerns and missed multiple games the past few years. In Suggs’ case he is expected to miss the entire 2012 season as he is recovering from a torn Achilles that he suffered while training this offseason. Ngata is in the prime of his career and disrupts things at the line of scrimmage, as anyone who knows football will tell you the game is won and lost in the trenches.
9.) Larry Fitzgerald (WR) Arizona Cardinals – He is one of the game’s best and ball skills are often regarded as some of the best in the game. He has been a mainstay as one of the top WR since he came into the league in 2004. Defensive Coaches often roll their coverage his way and always have more than one man accounting for him, yet he still puts up outstanding numbers year after year.
8.) Adrian Peterson (RB) Minnesota Vikings – Is known as the hardest runner in the NFL often sacrificing his body to get the extra yard. The only reason he won’t be in the top 5 is durability concerns. He has often missed games every year of his career because of his rugged style and determined running style. The most physically demanding position in the NFL is runningback, you get hit on every play and those hits tend to accumulate year after year. In terms of running style and play though he is the best the NFL has seen in a long time. There is a reason he has the nickname of (AD) standing for “All Day”, because he brings it game after game all day and game long.
7.) Patrick Willis (MLB) San Francisco 49ers – He is now regarded as the game’s best linebacker know that Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens is getting toward the twilight of his career. Willis is no slouch himself as he makes plays from sideline to sideline and has speed and play-making ability unmatched by anyone at his position. He was a big part of the 49ers turnaround last year and should be the mainstay of that defense for a number of years to come.
6.) Demarcus Ware (OLB) Dallas Cowboys – His ability to come off the edge and rush the passer and equally adept at dropping into coverage makes him the building block of a 3-4 defense. If you were going to design a 3-4 defense and come up with prototypical outside linebacker in that scheme it would be Ware. Blessed with the size and length that is demanded at that position standing in at 6’4 and weighing at a muscular and sculpted 260 pounds, he has the size that is coveted of a 3-4 outside linebacker. But his speed and play-making ability are separate him from the average outside linebacker in this league. Since coming into the league in 2005 he has 99.5 sacks which is the most of any player in that time. Truly a dominant force and a great player that before his time is up in the league will be regarded as one of the best to ever play the position.
5.) Darelle Revis (CB) New York Jets – One of the hardest positions to find players at in this league is at Cornerback, there are only 6 in the whole top 100 list. Of those 6 the only one you could say that’s a shutdown is Revis. Hailing from Aliquippa, Pennsylvania a football bred town that has produced former NFL Greats such as Mike Ditika, Tony Dorset, and Ty Law. He was born to play the game of football, possessed with elite size and speed at the corner position. He is the best press man to man corner in the league, even given the nickname of Revis Island because the Jets always put him man to man on the opposing team’s best player. He is always on an island with zero help over the top from the safety. To show what a great player he is during the 2010 regular season matchup with the Lions he often matched up with Megatron. He held Calvin to 1 catch for 13 yards. That right there is all you need to know about Revis’s ability as a player and why he is regarded as the best.
4.) Tom Brady (QB) New England Patriots – This might be a controversial choice by some as he was ranked #1 in last year’s poll. It’s no disrespect to him as a player, but just saying how good the other two Quarterbacks are in front of him. He is still elite and nearly lead the Patriots to their 4th Super Bowl under his command, but they fell just short and lost to the Giants by a score of 14-10. Last year he threw for a career high in 5,235 yards and had 39 touchdowns. The 39 touchdowns were the second most he’s had in his career next to the 50 he threw for in 2007 when he broke Dan Marino’s record of 48 set in 1984. The one concern for him is he isn’t getting younger and will be 35 at the start of the season. But don’t count Brady out as he is the ultimate competitor and is always looking for ways in which he can improve. If he tops his stats and what he did last year there is a very good chance he ends up number #1 next year.
3.) Aaron Rogers (QB) Green Bay Packers – Last season he put up outstanding number with throwing for career highs in both passing yards and the number of touchdowns. He threw for 4,643 yards and 45 TD’S, which is amazing considering he only played in 15 games because he sat out the week 17 victory over Detroit. He has an amazing supporting cast that will be around Green Bay for a number of years. The sky is the limit for Rogers and Green Bay’s offense, as he looks to shatter all of Brett Favre’s records. Packer fans have already forgot about Favre from the outstanding play of Rogers.
2.) Calvin Johnson (WR) Detroit Lions – The best player in the game that’s not a Quarterback, he possesses freakish skills that no one else possesses. Last season was his breakout season as he stayed healthy and played full 16 games for only the 2nd time in his career and finally had good quarterback play. He broke out and played lights out using his demonstrous figure at 6’5 and weighing close to 240 pounds running a 4.35 40. He flat-out is a freak and does things that other plays can’t do. No one is supposed to be that big and that fast, but he is. He should only improve his numbers this year as the Lions look to have an improved run game by having both Javid Best and Mikel Leshoure healthy. Leshoure will be suspended the first two games of next season for a substance abuse suspension. But with an improved running game making teams having to play a safety in the box at times that will only make it easier for the lions to get more vertical with its passing game. That’s a scary proposition when you consider how well their passing game was last year and they had no running game.
1.) Drew Brees (QB) New Orleans Saints – What can you say about his 2011 season, he broke the single season passing yards record with 5,476. He had the Saints offense going at a pace that hasn’t been seen in a long time in this league. Overlooked coming into the league because his size isn’t prototypical at standing at only 6’0 feet tall. He has proved his doubters wrong and continues to put elite stats year after year. The Saints should get things worked out with a long-term contract with Drew because does anyone remember the Saints before Brees came there as a free agent in 2006. They were horrible and with the first year of his tenure with the team they made the NFC championship and his 4th year there in 2009 they were Super Bowl Champs defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-24 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami. His value as a player cannot be talked about enough how important he is to that franchise. He’s the best player in the league hands down.
Let’s see how those predictions stack up next Wednesday at 8 p.m. on the NFL Network when they have a two-hour special revealing the top 10 players in the league. Normally the show it for only an hour but since it’s the last part there making it longer adding to the suspense of who is placed in what slot. Feel free to give me feedback on how you think my predictions or assessments are on this list and where Calvin Johnson measures up by his colleagues. As big of an honor it is to him, it’s just as big of a deal to Lions Fans and the franchise. It’s been a while since people were fired up about the Lions, thank god for Calvin and everything he means to this franchise.
About the Author my name is Price Burton I am currently a student at Northern Michigan University and will graduate in December with a degree in Media Production and New Technology with a minor in Marketing. I am currently an intern at CBS 62/ CW50. I played football collegiately at NMU till my career was cut short by a career ending knee injury last fall. You can give me feedback on Facebook at Price Burton or write on the CW50 Network web site. I hope you enjoyed reading my blog and look forward for you to continue to read my work.