Is Calvin Johnson a Hall of Famer?


It’s a good thing that: (1) there’s a five-year waiting period before consideration for the Hall of Fame; and (2) Twitter doesn’t control who gets in. Otherwise, half the former fantasy-football stars would rocket to Canton upon retirement.

Today’s “give him a gold jacket and bronze bust RIGHT NOW!” candidate would be former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired Tuesday after nine NFL seasons.

Some are calling him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, which will never happen. Jerry Rice was the last receiver to get in on the first try, and until someone beats his records every great receiver will have to be patient for at least a year — especially with a de facto waiting list from which Marvin Harrison recently escaped and on which Terrell Owens will now stand.

Owens undoubtedly will get in, as will Randy Moss, at some point after his first year of consideration. For Johnson, the question isn’t when he will get in but whether he even should.

Because he burned bright for several seasons, we assume he did it long enough to be among the all-time greats. He didn’t.

Johnson is 43rd on the all-time receptions list, behind the likes of Santana Moss, Donald Driver, Andre Rison, Eric Moulds, Chad Johnson, and Roddy White. Keenan McCardell, for crying out loud, has more than 150 more catches than Calvin Johnson.

On the all-time yardage list, Johnson finishes at No. 27 with 11,619 — and he’ll likely be 29th after Brandon Marshall and tight end Jason Witten pass him by this season. Derrick Mason, Jimmy Smith, and Irvin Fryar all have more yards than Johnson.

Johnson’s 83 touchdown receptions is good for 22nd all time, behind Mark Clayton, Irving Fryar, and Andre Rison.

Then there’s the fact that Johnson not only has no Super Bowl wins, but also has zero playoff victories. Before he gets in, Reggie Wayne, Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt should give their own speeches at the football stadium next to the museum.

Yes, Johnson had three phenomenal seasons, with 1,681 receiving yards in 2011, 1,964 yards in 2012, and 1,492 in 2013. But with only nine total NFL seasons, it’s not enough. He could have chosen to play a few more years, in the hopes of adding to his numbers and perhaps winning a playoff game, or two. He chose not to, and that’s fine. But it ultimately won’t be enough to earn a bronze bust — especially as he gets passed on the career achievements lists by the next wave of players who may spend a lot more than nine seasons in football — from Antonio Brown to Julio Jones to A.J. Green and to whoever the inevitable next big thing will be.

78 responses to “Is Calvin Johnson a Hall of Famer?

  1. I can’t believe Ochocinco has more catches than Megatron. That’s shocking.

  2. …….YES !……..Had a great career on some really lousy teams. Most games he WAS the Lions ONLY offensive threat and he STILL produced. Not a 1st ballot after 5 years, but I could see him getting in with the class of 2022 or 2023.

  3. Personally I don’t see it….it’s not the Hall of Very Good. Love or hate T.O. the guy put up transcendent numbers, same with Moss; and for much of Moss’ career his QB’s were lower quality than Stafford. If they’re going to struggle to get in based on their persona there’s no reason to anoint good guy Megatron who doesn’t have the stats to back it up.

  4. Keenan McCardell was stud #2 w/ J Smith as the 1. Brunell tossing it all over the place and Freddy bolting through the lines.

    McCardell had solid career; nothing to sneer at. And 1 ring w/ the Bucs.

  5. Had he put up his career averages for a few more seasons he would have been in for sure. I doubt he gets in based on stats. But it seems like the clueless people they let vote on the HOF pick a choose the guys they like. Calvin is a great guy so maybe they’ll let him in even though the stats are lacking.

  6. Does it have to be about numbers every time? He’s clearly been the best overall WR during his career. You can’t say that about any of the guys you listed that have more of a certain statistic.

  7. Megatron is the very definition of a HOF player. He was dominant at his position, for multiple years. No way he is first ballot, especially not in the year that PFM, Woodson, Allen, and Lynch also retired. TO and Moss both should be first ballot, but that’s not the world we live in.

  8. I’ve heard a terrific argument in favor of Johnson being a HOFer. My initial reaction, given my status as a huuuuuge baseball fan, to his candidacy was to say “no, sorry, he didn’t play long enough”.

    But then I was presented with the perspective that the NFL is a uniquely violent sport, one in which it is understandable that some of its best talents would be willing to walk away, unthinkably, before their skills fall off. Barry Sanders has long been the gold standard for this, but the occurrences are becoming more frequent.

    Should we hold it against supreme talents who would have been SURE to have HOF career lines had they stuck around when they walk away early? I’m starting to think “no”. So what should the standard for this group of players be? In Johnson’s case, it should be the fact that he was either clearly the NFL’s undisputed top WR or just short of that status for the entirety of his career. Was Marvin Harrison (with, don’t forget, Peyton Manning as his QB) even once the NFL’s top WR? I would say absolutely not (that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to make it, given how good he was for so long, but the standard is different in that case). Johnson is perhaps the most physically talented WR in NFL history and made use of those talents on very flawed teams, and if he isn’t, the only competition is probably Randy Moss.

    So…put him in, and be prepared to start judging short-but-superlative careers differently.

  9. I can’t believe this is a widespread opinion (and I’m a Broncos fan). Did you guys ever watch him play? It’s not all about numbers guys (although he is the career leader for receiving yards per game by a mile). He was the best receiver in the league for several years and one of the best players in the league, period.

    He also was a truly unique physical specimen the likes of which we’ve never seen. Those are the type of players that should be immortalized, not very good players that hung around a long time (I’m looking at you, Reggie Wayne).

  10. He needed to play longer and get his numbers up there. If he had done that and continued producing, then he would probably be HOF worthy.

    As good as he was, he just didn’t play long enough.

  11. Um, no. Let me put it this way, if you ain’t vote Hines Ward in (and not saying you should), you can’t come close to voting this guy in.

    He’s barely the best receiver of his era. And his best three years are really, really good, but that’s not a HOF career.

  12. Most yards per game (88+) of any receiver in NFL history, minimum 100 games.

    Oh, he also has the most receiving yards in a season, most yards in a single game in regulation… Mind you the majority of this happened with 2-3 defenders in his vicinity.

    He did all this in spite of the team’s struggles at QB, defensively, without a solid running game or any real help at receiver until recently… Do you guys realize how little an offense is on the field when a team is going 0-16, 2-14, 4-12?

    I know all this doesn’t guarantee HOF. But, it shows how special of a player he was, and how he changed the game. To me, that’s what the Hall is about, not playoffs or superbowls or team success.

    Bottom line, considering the type of person CJ is, I don’t think he really cares about the HOF. I’m sure he would be thrilled to make it, but I’m sure he realized walking away now could jeopardize his chances. And if that’s the case, I’m fine with him not making it if he’s fine with his decision.

  13. @jjb0811 says:
    Mar 9, 2016 11:09 AM

    Keenan McCardell was stud #2 w/ J Smith as the 1. Brunell tossing it all over the place and Freddy bolting through the lines.

    McCardell had solid career; nothing to sneer at. And 1 ring w/ the Bucs.
    The Titans ripped that team up almost every time they played and three times in 1999, the Jags only three losses in that season.

  14. Did he change the game?

    Highest ypg by 10 or so over Holt is one indicator; but the bigger deal to me is how he has multiple occasions where he caught the ball while in triple-coverage. A good receiver can handle double-coverage most of the time, but CJ has a noticeable number of triple-teams to his credit.

    So, yes. First-ballot is another issue altogether, but I think he’ll get in eventually.

  15. redsoxu571 says:
    Mar 9, 2016 11:14 AM

    Was Marvin Harrison (with, don’t forget, Peyton Manning as his QB) even once the NFL’s top WR? I would say absolutely not (that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to make it, given how good he was for so long, but the standard is different in that case).


    Yes, he absolutely was. Go back and look at some of the seasons he had. Marvin is easily forgotten by people outside of Indy because he never ran his mouth or seeked attention!

  16. Marques Colston had a similar albeit a shade less productive career.

    I think he belongs as every teams’ defensive game plan started with him and he still produced at a high level from day 1 until the last.

  17. Careers are getting shorter and shorter nowadays. Going out before you begin to decline shouldn’t be a deterrent to his HOF case. Why do you need to keep playing at a declining level just to pad stats? Your credentials should be based on how you played in big games and against other great teams/players. This makes Calvin’s case very hard as he always was on a terrible team and never made a playoff run. Would he have been a difference maker on a contender? probably, and just because the Lions drafted him and are in the gutter of the NFL, it shouldn’t hold him back. He should get in eventually for his elite play over any other receivers for a 3-4 years period. But the case is harder due to where he played.

  18. Some guys deserve to get in on a smaller body of work (Gale Sayers). IMO Johnson is one of those guys. He dominated his position for several years. Put him in.

  19. Get In Line. OchoUno (T.O.) is top 5, all-around, and Randy Moss will be “hopping on the Canton Bus” soon. Megatron, he gon’ have to wait!

  20. Pats fan here – That dis of Keenan McCardell was unnecessary. He was an excellent receiver for a number of years on those early Jax teams. He was underrated because…. Jacksonville.

    But McCardell is clearly better than guys like Eric Moulds, Donald Driver, and Andre Rison. Not sure why you singled him out to put down.

  21. rofl the gossipers favorite players club is irrelevant guys. stop lending it creedence by debating about it. Megatron was awesome, and Classy as hell. And he will always be awesome. Leave it at that.

  22. Was Marvin Harrison (with, don’t forget, Peyton Manning as his QB) even once the NFL’s top WR? I would say absolutely not (that doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to make it, given how good he was for so long, but the standard is different in that case).


    Isn’t the argument that Manning’s team were always loaded with top WR to make him look better while Brady did better working with scrubs?

  23. He will get in but not as soon as many think , for one we dont even know if he will remain retired i think he comes back and plays more if the lions r willing to release him

  24. It isn’t just a question of his stat lines. How many of those catches came against double and triple coverage? How much did he dominate any field he was on? Did opposing teams have nightmares figuring out how to stop him from wrecking a game?

    Stats are a good way of breaking a tie between two players that have similar levels of success and talent. But if you are talking about the raw ability to single-handedly change a game Megatron passes the eye test.

  25. It’s getting harder every year for these great players to get into the HOF. Seems the main issue is how long he has played and the poor quality team he was on. I think CJ is an amazing player and happy that I got to watch him play. At least he will be able to walk into the HOF and possibly remember his visit there, unlike many who visit their own busts and wonder who they are looking at.

  26. If his single season and career yards per game avg records aren’t HOF credentials than…smh, this is really up for discussion?!?! First ballot, no way, but considering the low bar nowadays for HOF, he’s a lock

  27. cardiovascularendurance says:
    I can’t believe Ochocinco has more catches than Megatron. That’s shocking.

    It gets lost behind his personality, late-career slump, and general life meltdown, but Chad Johnson was a dominant receiver and arguably the best in the league for more than a few years. He lead the AFC in receiving for four straight years, and had six consecutive seasons over 1,000 yards with an average of around 90 catches and around 8 TDs. Probably belongs in the Hall of Very Good.

    As for Calvin Johnson, he’s the reason you need an “eye test”. Comparing him to the greats via career numbers, per the article, makes you think he was mediocre at best. Anyone who watched him knows he was incredible. I think he’s a fifth-or-so ballot Hall of Famer, myself.

  28. Yes, Calvin Johnson will be a hall of famer, along with Hines Ward, Reggie Wayne, and the other premier receivers of the era. It’s not about what we speculate will happen, rather what occurred during the period of time a player was active.

    And for anyone doubting why Jerome Bettis is in the HOF, understand his ypa was identical to John Riggins. Also understand only four other backs in NFL history amassed more career 100 yard games.

  29. He’ll get in and here’s why: just look at where he ranked statistically among receivers during his career. That will be enough. The rest is just fodder for people who need something to talk about on radio every day at 6am.

  30. If you watched the games and didn’t just read stat lines you’d understand Calvin Johnson is a HOF.

  31. I love me some Calvin Johnson but not he’s def not first ballot. I can see him as one of those guys that goes in 10-15 years down the road if he is able to stay around the game.

  32. Because lord knows, they’ve never put in a running back who dominated his position for a somewhat (or extremely) brief period then disappeared.

  33. The bottom line is this. Megatron did for receiving in his short time that Barry did for running backs. He changed the way the position was played and how he was covered. The guy literally was double teamed his entire career, everyone knew the ball was being thrown to him, and he still caught the ball and put up ridiculous stats in his short time.

  34. I won’t rehash anything in the article, as it’s all good points – I’ll just add this name to the discussion – Sterling Sharpe – the numbers he put up for the era he played in were off the charts. With his career cut short by injury, he largely goes into the same category as Johnson. I think if you will argue that Johnson is a no brainer HOF candidate, you have to put Sharpe right into the discussion as well.

  35. If you are just looking at career numbers you are basically rewarding longevity above everything else. There are a lot of WRs with long careers and crazy stats, and those stats are largely dependent on who their QB was too. He won’t measure up to those guys but if you put a WR in every 2 or 3 years then you’re basically saying 4 or 5 per decade deserve HOF and in my mind he’s for sure among the best 4 or 5 in the past decade. Probably just depends who else is on the ballot. It’s possible he’ll get stuck behind TO, Moss, Fitzgerald, Wayne, Steve Smith, to name a few, depending on timing then miss his window of opportunity.

  36. With the commissioner relaxing the receiver’s rules you have to wonder if ANY of them are comparable to the pre-2006 players.

  37. As a Packer fan the best comparison for me is Sterling Sharpe. Sterling is still probably my favorite player, so I’m a little biased, but the per season averages for Sterling’s 7 years (85/1162/9)are similar to Calvin’s 9 (81/1291/9). Both had short careers on mostly bad teams (two playoff appearances each).

    If Sterling isn’t in, Calvin isn’t.

  38. It’s such a tough question, measuring stats in football is so hard because it’s a team sport. Look at his career vs others through age 30

    Lets see Calvin had 731 rec, 11619 yards, 83 TDs (135 games) but retired at age 30.

    Here’s Harrison, Moss, Owens, Rice through age 30

    Harrison 665 rec, 8800 yards, 73 TDs (106 games)
    Owens: 592 rec, 8572 yards, 81 TDs (121 games)
    Rice: 610 rec, 10273 yards, 103 TDs (124 games)
    Moss: 774 rec, 12193 yards, 124 TDs (154 games)

    He’s without doubt a HOF if he plays another 5 years but he isnt and you can only compare his numbers for what he did. He shouldn’t get a benefit for retiring early just look at his numbers as they are. I am not really sure.

    Eric Moulds has more catches, Mark Clayton has more TDs, and Derrick Mason has more yards. Are these guys better? Of course not but they did play longer than Calvin and longevity has to be taken into account.

    It should be noted Donald Driver and him have the same amount amount of 80 catch seasons. Of course Driver had Favre while Johnson mostly had Stafford.

    This is why stats in football are so misleading, it is a team sport and individual performances can suffer!

    Given his Peak I think he goes in because I always thought he was one of the best of the eras, but if he doesnt I guess I could understand the borderline case because he decided to retire a little early, but I think he’s good enough.

  39. How convenient to leave out the 15 NFL records he holds: 8 straight games over 100 yards receiving, 6 straight 1000 yard seasons and most yards in a season by a wr being among them.

  40. My advice for anyone in a HOF dispute:
    – Secure a meaningless broadcasting pundit role with ESPN/NFLN etc. Don’t get in the habit of saying much but use your time kissing ass. Give the appearance of being a class act when really you’re just showing that you’re willing to read whatever talking points are put in front of you.
    – Make an appearance on Dancing With the Stars.
    – Murder someone.

    NFL writers love all of those things.

  41. I think part of the reason we think so highly of Calvin Johnson isn’t just what he did or who he did it with (or without for that matter) but HOW he did it. At a position loaded with divas and less than likable personalities he went about his business in a way that did both he and the game credit. The references to Harrison, Owens, Rison et al are very telling. If they went about their business the way Johnson did would there be any discussion about their Hall worthiness? There is more to greatness than numbers and we all wish there were more great receivers that carried themselves like Calvin Johnson

  42. tajuara says:
    Mar 9, 2016 11:27 AM

    Isn’t the argument that Manning’s team were always loaded with top WR to make him look better while Brady did better working with scrubs?


  43. He is not going to make it. Not only will the young names listed above overtake him in short order, but you still have guys like Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald who are his contemporaries that have better resumes (which they can continue to build).

    If you are going to play for such a brief period, you need some post season success to justify a call.

  44. In my opinion, the HOF is for players who demonstrated dominance on the field at their position, subsequently leaving a lasting memory with the league’s collective fan base.

    While longevity and overall stats certainly play into it that definition, simply saying “he retired earlier than some guys and played on an noncompetitive team for most of his career so that means he doesn’t belong” is not a very impressive argument in my opinion.

    Calvin Johnson was simply one of the best receivers who ever played, and I’m sure most DBs would agree. That earns him a spot in the HOF in my mind. Who cares if he has more catches than Brandon Marshall or whoever? The HOF isn’t a compilation of statistics. It’s about honoring the greatest men who ever played the game.

  45. tajuara says:
    Mar 9, 2016 11:27 AM

    Isn’t the argument that Manning’s team were always loaded with top WR to make him look better while Brady did better working with scrubs?


    Yeah, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski are total scrubs.

  46. This is going to be an interesting discussion that I only think will be more and more common going forward.

    Reason for this is that today’s modern players are learning more and more about CTE, they are seeing old players who can barely walk, and they are watching all of the great players from the 70’s passing away at younger ages than normal. Not to mention the fact that NFL salary’s have grown and will keep growing, and endorsement deals are the same way. Quite frankly with today’s NFL salaries, if a player is smart with his money, there is a lot less of a financial need to play as long.

    I personally think that players are seeing the long term health concerns, and I think that we going to star seeing a trend of players retiring earlier. I think that the 10 year career is going to be considered on the longer side going forward and the days of players playing 10-20 seasons is going to start being the anomaly. And if a player happens to win a ring in their first couple seasons, we are going to start seeing them go to the highest bidder, then retire after the 2nd contract.

    With this trend, the HOF is going to be forced to look at a player that played 8-10 seasons and burned bright during that time.

    Calvin was not the dominate receiver from a few years ago, but he had a lot left in the tank. He also had a body that was breaking down and a huge bank account. I can’t fault him.

  47. Yes he belongs. He was consistently in the discussion as being the best WR, if not a top 10 player in the league for at least 5 seasons. He was a sure bet to be a first-team all-pro.

    Now you mentioned guys like Isaac Bruce, Holt and Reggie Wayne. With all do respect to them, they had other good receivers playing with them (Wayne had Harrison and Dallas Clark, Holt and Bruce had Faulk, etc.) Megatron was the ONLY receiving option for the Lions for the majority of his tenure there. Double teams, triple teams, throw it up to him and he would still make the catch.

    He wont be first ballot, but he should get in.

  48. Here’s the thing. The HOF shouldn’t be about raw career stat totals. It should be about how dominant the player was. Lets compare Calvin to say…Hines Ward. Ward will almost certainly get into the HOF. Why? Because he won a couple rings and has the raw stats. Was he ever dominant though? Nope. Did opposing DC’s have nightmares about covering Ward? Lol…no. Ward was often the #2 receiver ON HIS OWN TEAM. Now compare that to a guy like Calvin – who dominated the competition and was the unquestioned #1 WR in the NFL for 5+ years. Calvin only played 9 years though, compared to 14 for Hines. So Hines Ward was able to rack up those stats even though he was half the WR.

  49. Gayle Sayers got in after a very short career, with no playoff wins, no rings. Played on a bad bears team his whole career. So the premise of this article is faulty. Sayers got in because he was unmatched in his era, there was no one like him then or now, except maybe Barry Sanders. Calvin Johnson is the same. There is no comparable player in his era, nothing like him. To argue his HOF candidacy based in pure numbers is to ignore the history of pro football

  50. So, with your thinking Florio, Barry Sanders shouldn’t be in the hall of fame, either then, right? I respect your writing and I’m an avid reader of this site but this is truly one of the most ridiculous articles you have written. There are many players who never played for playoff teams that are great and in the hall of fame – why you picked Calvin Johnson to crap on amazes me. He played for nine years and he was the absolute best player at his position for most of those years!

  51. #1 all time in yards per game.

    Defenses created a defense just for him.

    Calvin was the best at his position for most of his career.

    The HOF is for the greatest players, not the greatest compilers of stats.

  52. Barry did it longer.

    Calvin did it in an era of pathetically easy rules changes that have bloated the production of WRs and QBs.

    Calvin belongs in the hall of the very good, not the HoF.

  53. Calvin Johnson 9 Seasons
    731 Receptions
    11,619 Yards
    83 TD’s

    Michael Irvin 12 Seasons
    750 Receptions
    11,904 Yards
    87 TD’s

    If Michael Irvin is a HOF’er, Calvin Johnson is a HOF’er easily

  54. i’m surprised how many people don’t think megatron is a hall of famer. he was better than marvin harrison.

  55. When he was at his best there was no one like him. The problem is his prime was short and he didn’t evolve the game in any way. I don’t see him as a HOFer and he was one of my favorite players.

  56. All the players you’d put in the conversation with Calvin Johnson were either flameouts or bound for Canton.

    Megatron’s career might have been short, but it was no flash in the pan.

  57. If you let Calvin Johnson in for 3 dominant years then you need to let Terrell Davis in who accomplished far more and dominated far more and on the biggest stage

    CJ might’ve had HoF talent and measurables, but you don’t get into the HoF on those alone

    There’s no question of his skills but the resume simply doesn’t have enough on it to warrant HoF membership

  58. anyone every look at HOF’er Lynn Swan’s career stats? He makes the case that stats are the least important quality when judging HOF eligibility.

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