An Illustrated Look at Why Everyone Is So Scared of Calvin Johnson

Here’s the thing on writing about Calvin Johnson: it’s already been done before. And when I say that I mean that we’ve literally run out of ways to describe him. I know it’s a cliché and I get that he didn’t have the best season last year (still put up numbers, though), but ever since the 6-5 transformer dropped our jaws and started redefining the laws of physics at Georgia Tech, he’s been almost indescribable.

If we’re going to describe any professional athlete as anything other than human, it needs to be Calvin Johnson. The Detroit playmaker once nearly topped 2,000 receiving yards in one season while playing with basically nine fingers. He’s had coaches call him the best football player in the world. He’s had defenders accuse him of being 11 feet tall. Usain Bolt showed over the last few years that he is beatable. LeBron James just lost in the NBA Finals. And even Serena Williams doesn’t win every match. But CJ81? Off the field, he can live in somewhat anonymity for a few reasons (Detroit, uniforms, on-field visor) but on it he might just be the most captivating and valuable player in the NFL.

To celebrate the release of the upcoming “Baseball” colorway of the Nike CJ3 Flyweave Trainer at Champs Sports, we’re letting you in on a not-so-subtle secret: everyone is afraid of Calvin Johnson. Need some proof? This is an Illustrated Look at Why Everyone Is So Scared of Calvin Johnson.

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1. HIS SIZE
Of the 35 players with more all-time receiving yards than Calvin Johnson, do you know how many can match his sheer size? Only two, and they are both tight ends. Johnson is unique to NFL receivers, normally cluttered with small, speedy types that can shift and dance across the hash marks, or tall, skinny possession receivers with a taste for the ball and the toughness needed to catch them over the middle. Johnson is really the first one who can do it all, and even with defensive backs becoming increasingly bigger, they all look like ants compared to No. 81.

Calvin Johnson
Timothy McAuliffe

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2. HIS ATHLETICISM
It’s not even about the stuff that you already know about, like the 4.33-second 40-yard dash he put up during a mid-February workout back in 2007, or the 43-inch vertical he has posted. It’s the small things that truly separate Johnson. He doesn’t drop balls, often catching passes with two or three defenders draped across his arms. And for a big man, he is surprisingly light on his feet. He doesn’t need to rev up to jump, doesn’t need extra steps to break out of cuts. Add in the massive mitts and the ability to not only jump high but out—dude reportedly had one of the greatest broad jumps ever during a pre-draft workout—and you have the recipe for a disaster, at least for opposing defenses.

Calvin Johnson
Timothy McAuliffe

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3. HIS DEMEANOR
The scariest Hollywood villains are always the ones who don’t act like it. Wielded in the right hands, silence can be deadly, and on the field Johnson lets his jaw-dropping antics tell the story for him. He wears a uniform, a helmet, even a visor, so no one ever sees his face or gets a look into his eyes. He cuts everyone off, just as he does in his infamous Nike commercial with Diddy, who spends the whole ad telling Johnson to simply handle his business on the field and Diddy, the marketing whiz, will take care of the rest.

Wide receivers have always been known for being outspoken and sometimes even outlandish. (Think Owens, Horn, and Ocho Cinco.) But Johnson doesn’t say anything and if I’m a defensive back tasked with somehow stopping the greatest playmaker in the game, that only frightens me more.

Calvin Johnson
Timothy McAuliffe

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4. THE GAME
It’s rather simple, really. Calvin Johnson is playing in a wide receiver fantasy, complete with spread offenses, gun-slinging quarterbacks, high-scoring games, antsy fans, and a bunch of rules that do nothing but favor a 6-5, 240-pound wide receiver.

An athletic with every skill possible? Packaged in a once-in-a-lifetime body? Backed up by rules and playing styles and game plans directly meant to make him look good? My fingers are trembling just writing that.

Calvin Johnson
Timothy McAuliffe

Follow Sean on Twitter at @seanesweeney

Illustrations by Timothy McAuliffe/goldvan.co