Rumors have been swirling for weeks, but Calvin Johnson made it official and retired from the NFL this week. As with every move surrounding the NFL offseason, there are widespread fantasy football ramifications that you’ll need as we get closer to the season.[Jeff]
First, the fantasy football world and the Lions are being left without an annual WR1 and a Hall of Fame Wide Receiver, respectively. Johnson has the highest yards per game average of all time and by a wide margin, with nearly nine yards per game between him (86.07 yards per game) and number two Torry Holt (77.35 yards per game). That difference is roughly the same as number two and number eighteen. Granted, Megatron has greatly benefited from playing in the era of lax defensive rules, but he is an all-time talent. As far as fantasy football is concerned, the game will be without an annual WR1, and the player that was literally the top wide receiver in fantasy football for about half a decade. His contributions to the game will be missed, and many dynasty teams were left reeling.
The removal of Calvin Johnson from the game leaves the fantasy options on the Lions with new challenges, and new opportunities. First, let’s take a look at Matthew Stafford. In his seven seasons, he has only played five games without Megatron, and in those five games, he has a lower completion percentage, his yards per game drops from 282 to 239, and he averages 1.2 touchdowns compared to 1.78. Granted, five games is an extremely small sample size, but that’s about one-third of an NFL season, so we’ve definitely drawn conclusions on things with less. Another way to slice it, however, is the insane number of yards and touchdown production that have come for Stafford by slinging it up to Megatron: 31.32% of his career yards and 34.36% of his career touchdown passes have gone to Johnson, so Stafford is a shoo-in for a step back. He falls back into the late-teens in terms of quarterbacks. A streaming QB2, and nothing more.
Megatron’s absence would move Golden Tate to the de facto WR1, but the Lions used their cap space to sign Marvin Jones, who becomes the 1b to Tate’s 1a. The Lions locked up Jones to a reported five-year/$40 million deal. Jones was all potential in his first few seasons in Cincinnati, starting only eight games in his first two seasons and missing all of his third with injury. Last year he played a perfectly serviceable second fiddle to A.J. Green, hauling in 65 of his 103 targets for 816 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged a serviceable 6.6 fantasy points per week, and was solidly among the morass of WR3/4s that didn’t have a massive upside. For all of his promise, Jones has only surpassed 100 yards once, and scored four of his fifteen career touchdowns in a 2013 49-9 shellacking of the Jets. He did this all with defenses keying in on A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert, so the renewed focus on him will somewhat offset his new opportunities. He’s a decent enough receiver, slippery in the open field and more of a quick guy than a burner, tough as nails and great at adjusting to the ball. He’s basically Golden Tate 2.0. Both Tate and Jones will end the season as comfortable WR3s in twelve-team leagues.
The biggest gainer from this retirement will be quasi-bust Tight End Eric Ebron. With Jones and Tate as his top two targets, Stafford is without a big bodied threat in the red zone (while Jones is three inches taller than Tate, he is still three inches shorter than Calvin Johnson). Enter 6’4”, 245 pound Ebron. He’s had drop issues so far in his young career, but he’s the big target that Stafford will use to at least try to fill the hole on the field left by a man that ESPN once told us had the catch radius of a garage. Ebron will become worth a gamble in the TE 10 – 15 range. He shouldn’t be a guy you go into your draft specifically targeting, but he’s a perfectly suitable option to start the season with if you’re someone who punts the position.