Following a three-year college career of highlight-reel catches and consistent statistical production, Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson is likely to be the first receiver selected in the 2007 National Football League Draft.
Johnson has been a ballyhooed prospect since his days at Sandy Creek High School in Tyrone, Ga. As a junior, he caught 34 passes for 646 yards and 10 touchdowns. During his senior season, he caught 40 passes for 736 yards and eight touchdowns.
As a freshman at Georgia Tech in 2004, Johnson started immediately. He continued posting impressive numbers, with 48 catches for 837 yards and seven touchdowns, all of which were Georgia Tech freshman records. His best game came in his second start, against then-18th ranked Clemson, scoring three touchdowns and accumulating 127 yards on eight catches. Significantly, the last two of those three scores were jump-ball receptions in the red zone with under 2:00 left in the game. The first came at 1:50 with George Tech trailing 24-14. The second came with 11 seconds remaining and sealed the 28-24 comeback victory.
Johnson caught 54 passes for 888 yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2005. Though Georgia Tech finished with a 7-5 overall record for the second straight season, the Yellow Jackets did compile two upset victories, and Johnson made big plays in both games. He caught a 35-yard touchdown pass in the season-opening upset of 15th-ranked Auburn. Johnson also caught six passes for 89 yards when Georgia Tech posted a late-season road victory against then-No. 3 University of Miami (Fla.).
As a junior in 2006, Johnson had his best collegiate season and Georgia Tech had its best season during his tenure, finishing 9-5. He amassed 1,202 yards on 78 receptions and had 15 touchdown catches. He closed his college career with a superb game against West Virginia University in the Toyota Gator Bowl. He had nine catches for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-35 loss to No. 13 West Virginia. Three of his nine catches were for over 30 yards: the two touchdowns (for 31 and 48 yards), and a 35-yard catch at the three-yard line, which set up another Georgia Tech score.
Overall, in 38 total games, Johnson scored 28 touchdowns and had 13 100-yard games - both of which are school records. Johnson also set a Georgia Tech record with 2,927 yards receiving, and wound up with a career average of 16.4 yards per catch. In addition, Johnson never missed a start in his three seasons.
Johnson has speed (4.33) and leaping ability (43-inch vertical leap) rarely found in a receiver so large (6-foot-5, 235 pounds). All measurements were taken in a workout before the NFL Scouting Combine. He also demonstrates incredible strength, body control and hand-eye coordination. He's quick off the line, difficult to jam and has outstanding hands.
Moreover, Johnson's durability and statistical production at Georgia Tech were outstanding. His receiving numbers got better each season, and his track record includes several sterling performances in big games against upper-echelon opponents. Johnson accomplished all of this with opponents keying on him as Georgia Tech's primary offensive weapon.
Johnson also exhibits the intangibles that make franchises drool. He's intelligent and humble. He also has a strong work ethic and lengthy track record of community involvement. In short, he's the complete package.
Johnson's resume is hard to knock. He is coming out as a junior, though, which means he could have some room to improve on the nuances of the game, particularly with route running and blocking.
Barring a serious injury or another unforeseen circumstance at the Combine in Indianapolis from Feb. 21-27, Johnson should be the first wide receiver selected. It's hard to imagine Johnson falling any lower than the Minnesota Vikings, who select seventh. The team's leading receiver last season, Travis Taylor, had fewer than 60 catches and 700 yards.
Of course, Johnson might go as early as third, depending on whether the Cleveland Browns or Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the coin flip at the Combine. If the Browns win, it's conceivable they'll pass on Johnson, since they have established starters such as Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius, as well as tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who needs his touches. By contrast, the Buccaneers could be a likely destination for Johnson. Wide Receiver Joey Galloway is 35 years old and receiver Michael Clayton has underachieved for two straight seasons.
If Johnson somehow slides past the Buccaneers and Browns, he might also slide past the Cardinals. The team picks fifth; they also have two of the best starting receivers in the NFL in Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald. If so, the Washington Redskins, selecting sixth, might jump all over Johnson. Washington has failed in recent years to find a solid starter opposite wide receiver Santana Moss. Last season, neither wideout Brandon Lloyd nor receiver Antwaan Randle El caught more than 32 passes.
Could Johnson go in the first two picks? It's not inconceivable. However, the
Oakland Raiders, picking first, desperately need a signal-caller, and they may
opt for Louisiana State quarterback JaMarcus Russell. The Detroit Lions, picking
second, may also bypass Johnson, since the Lions have solid incumbents at receiver
with Roy E. Williams and Mike Furrey. The Lions also have needs on defense and
a recent draft history of poorly evaluating the receiver position. They have
taken a receiver in the first round in three of the past four years (Charles
Rogers, Roy E. Williams and Mike Williams).