Fantasy Equity Deep Dive: Calvin Johnson June 8, 2015  |  Chet

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Calvin Johnson has been a first-round fantasy pick for so long, it’s almost passe to write about him beyond reminding people that — when healthy — he’s un-guardable on every part of the field.

I remember fantasy football Twitter during last year’s Monday Night Football opener, when Calvin tormented the Giants’ outmatched secondary for seven grabs, 167 yards and two scores. The consensus, after an off-season that had a few receivers considered No. 1 overall prospects, was something like this: if you didn’t take Megatron as the first wideout off the board, you are — in no uncertain terms — an idiot.

Calvin went on to miss three and a half games in 2014 and finished as fantasy’s WR16, seven points ahead of Anquan Boldin. Nine receivers posted higher fantasy points per game than Calvin.

He’s now being drafted as the sixth wide receiver off the draft board, just ahead of Jordy Nelson. Maybe it’s surprising to people that Megatron wasn’t one of the five receivers with No. 1 overall receiver in his range of outcomes, per our fantasy equity scores for the game’s elite pass catchers. Then there’s his median prospects, which aren’t any better than A.J. Green.

Megatron, who turns 30 in September, is entering his ninth NFL season. I think there’s reasonable concern about the aged Calvin, though we should recall — as Pro Football Focus’ Austin Lee reminded us three summers ago — that receivers’ age of major decline isn’t until the mid-30s. Calvin is well past his peak age, however. You knew that though.

I tinkered with Calvin’s Rotoviz similarity scores and found a few intriguing tidbits that might make him as much of a top-ADP value as anyone in 2015.

Remove Megatron’s Week 4 and 5 performances — where he took to the gridiron as nothing more than a decoy for the Lions’ offense — and things look rosier for the old guy. Calvin’s 2011 campaign pops up as a comp in the sim score app. He was WR1 that season on the strength of 16 touchdowns and almost 1,700 receiving yards, lest you forgot.

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It’s also hopeful that Calvin’s negative comps include his 2012 season, in which he was fantasy’s top receiver. You’ll see Brandon Marshall’s 2013 campaign in the negative comps too. Marshall was WR5 that year — something less than horrible for the negative side of the comp scale.

Most of Mega’s comps remain negative even with Weeks 4 and 5 removed, but that might be expected for a receiver entering his age-30 season.

His altered high prospects still doesn’t put him at WR1. It does, however, increase his median equity score, putting him at WR3 for the year. Whereas his unaltered median equity score is negative right now, it jumps to two with a little tinkering — a not-inconsiderable change.

I don’t think — beyond nagging injuries that keep Megatron hopping on and off the sidelines — there’s any real concern in his opportunity taking a hit in 2015. Sure, I like Golden Tate’s ADP quite a bit right now, but that’s not because he’s primed to siphon targets from the giant human being who makes Matthew Stafford much better than he really is. Calvin has seen a whopping 10.9 targets per game over his past 59 contests. It should be noted that that number includes Detroit’s 2012 Garbage Time-a-palooza that saw Megatron get 205 targets in one of the least efficient passing offenses of all time.

Probably your stance on investing highly in Megatron comes down to your trust that he’ll play 16 games in 2015. He hasn’t played a full season since 2012, and the laundry list of nicks, scrapes, and bumps he’s played through over the past two seasons is the stuff of indigestion: a dislocated finger, a partially torn PCL, a high ankle sprain, a run-of-the-mill ankle sprain, a strained thigh muscle, and knee swelling.

It’s not exactly encouraging that, in Mike Braude’s solid examination of receivers’ peak age, Jerry Rice stand out as the post-30-year-old exception to the rule. Randy Moss is the only big receiver in recent history who has posted elite fantasy numbers at 30 or older.

I, for one, won’t be able to resist Megatron if he’s not among the first five or six wideouts selected. I think that’s good process, but just barely.


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