Any team that loses one of the most prolific wide receivers in NFL history would be expected to have a drop off in its passing game, but former UGA quarterback Matthew Stafford thinks his Detroit Lions will be “tougher” to defend without recently retired former Georgia Tech wideout Calvin Johnson.
“I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have in the past,” Stafford said during an interview on Sirius XM NFL Radio with Alex Marvez and Kirk Morrison. “Obviously we used to feature Calvin and everybody kinda got their’s after that. It’s gonna, I think, be tougher for defenses in a certain way that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on. We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, a bunch of guys are gonna get a ton of catches and we’re gonna be alright.”
Stafford may have a point, but even he recognized in the same interview that his former Yellow Jackets rival is a “once in a lifetime” player. Johnson and Stafford only faced each other once on the college level in 2006, with the Bulldogs winning 15-12. Detroit picked Johnson with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft and made the former adversaries teammates when it drafted Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
Johnson made six Pro Bowls in eight career seasons before his surprising retirement. Johnson finished just 27th on the all-time receiving yards list with 11,619, but he led the NFL in receiving with Stafford as his quarterback in 2011 (1681 yards) and 2012 (1964 yards). The Lions only made two playoff appearances — the only playoff runs for the franchise since 2000 — during their time together, but that certainly wasn’t all the fault of Johnson and Stafford.
The Lions will certainly miss the matchup nightmare that is Johnson, but the team returns Golden Tate, who led Detroit in receptions in each of the past two seasons. Still, Johnson provided a security blanket for Stafford that can’t be duplicated.
The former UGA star will likely need to have one of his best seasons if the Lions want to make some noise in 2016.