2014 Fantasy Football: Consider Calvin Johnson With No. 1 Pick

By Sean Cordy
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting a wide receiver with the first pick is a risky move most people aren’t willing to make. But considering how much talent and opportunity Calvin Johnson has, it’s something to really consider if you are sitting with the first overall pick. Eyebrows may rise when you pick him at the top slot, but they’ll soon realize your fantasy football savvy once the season rolls on.

You typically want to take a running back with the first pick. But can you tell me who’s going to be the best fantasy option at that position this season? There hasn’t been a repeat top ranked running back since LaDainian Tomlinson, so the odds are against Jamaal Charles. Marshawn Lynch is another possibility, but he’s carried the ball an insane amount of times over the last three seasons; this might be the season he gets injured or the tank runs out temporarily. There’s a plethora of backs who could be that top guy, but all of them also show downside. Johnson, on the other hand, is a guarantee if there ever was one.

At first glance, it may seem he could have a “down” year because of the departure of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan whose offenses set passing attempt records with the Detroit Lions. But what did the Lions do to replace that void and keep the pass-heavy offense rolling? They hired the quarterback coach of another successful passing franchise, the New Orleans Saints of course — Joe Lombardi.

Lombardi is used to a system that is pass first, second and third. That’s exactly what Linehan was, and Lombardi will be bringing in a new system that should be similar to what has made Jimmy Graham such a dominant pass catcher. Combine that with the already megastar Johnson is, and he could have another career year. Remember, this is talking about a man who almost hit 2,000 yards just two seasons ago.

Last season, Johnson missed two games and was the third ranked wide receiver. Because of this, it appears that Demaryius Thomas was a better wide receiver last season, but that is not the case. Had Johnson played all 16 games, he would have almost hit his 2011 mark of 265 points, topping suspended Josh Gordon as well.

One may think of the additions of Golden Tate and Eric Ebron as detractors for Johnson, but look at what happened in 2012.  He was targeted over 200 times but only reeled in five touchdowns. Why? Because of the milestone season he had in 2011 with 16 touchdowns. Defenses locked down on him more in the red zone, but he was still able to accrue a heap of yards. Now defenses won’t be able to lock down on him, knowing there are two new threats in town as well as the existing playmakers of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Johnson should see somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 touchdowns this season with about 1,600 yards once again. This would put him in the range of about 250 points. That’s about what a top-tier running back would land you. But you’ll be able to still draft a RB like Reggie Bush or Andre Ellington in the following rounds, both of whom should top 200 points this season. Whereas if you were to wait for a WR, you won’t find anyone near Johnson’s projected output after two rounds of drafts.

It’s preferable to take Johnson later in the draft, of course, but he’s worth your pick at any position in the round.

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