StrategyAugust 2, 2013

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The Argument for Calvin Johnson - 12 comments

By R.J. White

As I continue to blaze through mock drafts, the strategy I keep coming back to for my first-round pick is to take Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the middle of the first round, maybe even as high as fourth or fifth overall. Here’s why.

Most of your league is going to draft a running back in the first round. You know this. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise to see RBs get drafted with 15 of the first 16 picks (or something close to it), with Johnson representing the lone exception. It’s generally because bell-cow running backs feel like the safest picks, and with two starters at the position, teams need to stock up on clear No. 1 RBs, generally the most valuable commodity in fantasy football.

But what are you buying with that first-round RB pick? Here is the top-scoring fantasy RBs of 2012, according to, along with their 2012 mock-draft ADPs from Fantasy Football Calculator. Note that the ADPs only count drafts during a 24-hour period right before the start of the season, so mock drafters had as much information as possible.

Adrian Peterson307.42.06
Doug Martin262.63.01
Arian Foster262.11.02
Marshawn Lynch246.62.04
Alfred Morris241.013.01
Ray Rice222.11.02
C.J. Spiller212.39.03
Jamaal Charles204.52.06
Trent Richardson203.73.05
Frank Gore202.84.05
Stevan Ridley199.45.08
Matt Forte177.41.10
Chris Johnson175.51.09
Reggie Bush171.85.02
Shonn Greene167.46.10
Steven Jackson162.32.10
Michael Turner156.83.09
Ahmad Bradshaw156.04.02
BenJarvus Green-Ellis151.85.02
Mikel Leshoure149.29.08
LeSean McCoy145.31.05
Darren Sproles141.13.06
DeAngelo Williams130.47.04
Danny Woodhead116.7UDFA
Vick Ballard116.4UDFA
Willis McGahee113.24.06
DeMarco Murray111.41.12
Darren McFadden110.51.06
Joique Bell103.9UDFA
Ryan Mathews97.92.08
Andre Brown97.1UDFA
Pierre Thomas94.7UDFA
Mark Ingram93.18.04
Felix Jones92.4UDFA
Knowshon Moreno91.2UDFA
Jacquizz Rodgers88.49.06
Mike Tolbert87.1UDFA
Marcel Reece82.7UDFA
Bilal Powell81.7UDFA
Fred Jackson81.42.08
Jonathan Dwyer80.913.03
Bryce Brown80.0UDFA
Michael Bush77.48.10
Isaac Redman71.48.02
Daniel Thomas68.112.06
David Wilson67.27.02
Maurice Jones-Drew62.02.03
Jonathan Stewart61.38.11
Donald Brown59.06.08
Beanie Wells53.88.03
Robert Turbin53.512.08
Ben Tate42.87.08
Cedric Benson40.55.09
Peyton Hillis39.16.02
Toby Gerhart34.49.07
Kevin Smith33.37.03
Evan Royster31.713.03
Rashard Mendenhall28.410.10
LeGarrette Blount27.311.02
Ryan Williams16.87.11
Roy Helu4.79.01

Due to different factors, many high picks like Maurice Jones-Drew, Fred Jackson, DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden and even to some extent LeSean McCoy, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte didn’t work out for the owners that invested premium picks in the position. On the flip side, a few unheralded commodities like C.J. Spiller and Alfred Morris rose from the muck to post elite numbers, and they were joined in the top 15 not just by first- and second-rounders, but also by players drafted in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. When you check out the ADPs of players that scored at least 150 points, you get: four our of seven first-rounders (with a fifth just missing the list), four out of seven second-rounders, three out of four third-rounders (with the fourth just missing the list), two out of three fourth-rounders and three out of four fifth-rounders. Even if you solely look at the top 10, you get two first, three seconds, two thirds and a fourth, ninth and 13th.

So again, what are you buying when you take a RB in the first?

Now, 2012 may end up being looked back upon as an outlier. If you look at 2011, the results look a little more in tune with what people expected:

Ray Rice296.81.02
LeSean McCoy280.41.08
Maurice Jones-Drew262.02.01
Arian Foster250.11.03
Marshawn Lynch215.67.03
Michael Turner212.82.04
Adrian Peterson188.91.01
Ryan Mathews186.64.08
Michael Bush185.59.09
Darren Sproles185.311.03
Steven Jackson181.82.10
Frank Gore176.52.07
Reggie Bush176.27.03
Fred Jackson169.67.01
Matt Forte168.72.12
Chris Johnson168.51.04
Beanie Wells165.95.08
Shonn Greene162.53.10
Rashard Mendenhall160.21.09
Ahmad Bradshaw158.63.12
Willis McGahee151.010.01
Mike Tolbert150.37.06
BenJarvus Green-Ellis148.66.09
Jonathan Stewart147.48.10
Cedric Benson146.96.06
DeAngelo Williams139.15.02
Pierre Thomas132.79.06
Ben Tate122.09.11
DeMarco Murray120.013.05
Brandon Jacobs119.98.04
C.J. Spiller119.010.10
LeGarrette Blount116.93.05
Roy Helu115.912.01
Darren McFadden104.82.02
Donald Brown103.1UDFA
Ryan Grant98.76.01
Toby Gerhart96.1UDFA
Kevin Smith93.5UDFA
LaDainian Tomlinson90.99.03
Peyton Hillis87.73.02
Felix Jones86.13.06
Jahvid Best85.74.04
James Starks83.48.06
Marion Barber83.212.06
Mark Ingram80.04.11
Daniel Thomas69.37.12
Ricky Williams64.714.05
Danny Woodhead60.812.01
Joseph Addai58.67.09
Thomas Jones52.112.04
Tim Hightower51.95.07
Stevan Ridley51.413.07
Delone Carter45.513.11
Javon Ringer41.213.06
Montario Hardesty38.812.08
Knowshon Moreno32.04.10
Ryan Torain28.312.05
Ronnie Brown17.612.07
Jamaal Charles13.21.05
Jerome Harrison4.414.03

Will new starting RBs continue to emerge at the pace they did in 2012, or will we revert back to the 2011 model of fewer surprises and busts? I tend to favor the 2012 side, with teams continuing to move to more time shares at running back and injuries continuing to be a factor, there are very few RBs that can be considered safe RB1s, yet we see owners continuing to emphasize the position in their drafts. How comfortable do you feel with those backs?

Can you rule out Mike Shanahan shenanigans relegating Alfred Morris to a one-year wonder? I wouldn’t put it past him to split time at RB three ways between Morris, John Wall and Bryce Harper. Will Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy keep their talented backups at bay, or will we see more of a split in workload between them at their quality No. 2s? Will Jamaal Charles hold up or succumb to injury yet again? Will Seattle start using the RBs they’ve continued to draft in early rounds? It seems like virtually every top running back comes attached with question marks.

That’s why after Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, C.J. Spiller and maybe Foster come off the board, I’m going with Calvin Johnson.

After finishing as the sixth-best fantasy receiver in 2010, Johnson led all WRs in fantasy points by a comfortable margin in 2011 (Johnson’s total of 263.2 was nearly 50 points higher than the second-place finisher). In 2012, despite seeing his TDs decrease from 16 to five, Johnson still led all fantasy WRs in scoring, albeit by a much smaller margin. If you were to average his past two seasons together as a raw projection, you could pencil Johnson in for about 1,825 receiving yards and double-digit TDs. Considering he did most of this damage with a suspect supporting cast that caused him as the defensive focus on virtually every play, I don’t see why this isn’t repeatable.

Besides the safety that Johnson provides at the top of the draft, fantasy owners get to take advantage of both quality RB depth and WR depth while building a team throughout the remainder of a draft.

Once the first 15 RBs come off the board, we see teams start to slow down and explore other fantasy positions. At this point, I leap on the RBs. In fact, I might even draft four RBs after selecting Johnson with my first pick in the middle of the first round. Ideally, I’ll land two from a group that includes Reggie Bush, Frank Gore, Lamar Miller, DeMarco Murray, Darren Sproles, David Wilson and Darren McFadden, with the outside chance one more of them falls to me in the fourth round. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll take two more backs from a group that includes the top four rookie backs along with Chris Ivory, Rashard Mendenhall and others. Are any of them going to be top-five backs? Not likely. But by adding a few key sleepers near the end of the draft, I feel confident I’ll be able to find two good starters and one solid backup at the position.

And once I have four RBs in the fold, I can switch back to WRs for a couple rounds and take a few upside guys I like, feeling comfortable that two will emerge as starters next to Johnson. These could be names like Antonio Brown, DeSean Jackson, Cecil Shorts, James Jones and Anquan Boldin, among others. Once we hit that seventh round, though, I do keep an eye on the remaining QBs to make sure I can pick up one of my top 12 options. The WR depth through nine rounds is enough that I feel comfortable doing that, then coming back with a quality QB2 in round 10 like an Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler.

I then use the remainder of the draft to pick up lottery-ticket RBs and a few late-round TEs I like as sleepers. Unless you’re drafting right before the season starts, remember that you’re better off holding on to lottery-ticket RBs (quality handcuffs, unknowns in murky RB depth charts) throughout the preseason and seeing if one emerges as a quality fantasy option. Then, you throw away the others to add a kicker and a defense with a quality matchup in Week 1.

Of course, much of the previous few paragraphs can be applied throughout if you go RB in the first round in WR in the second as well, especially if you particularly buy into one of the Tier 2 RBs. However, I would tend to avoid going RB-RB early, as it handcuffs your ability to build quality depth by using your third, fourth and fifth round picks on the position while others are draft WRs, QBs and TEs.

Be sure to run a few mock drafts with Calvin Johnson as your first rounder with one of the middle picks, and then other mocks with a first-round RB paired with Brandon Marshall or Dez Bryant in the second round, using both strategies before going heavy on RB in rounds 3-5. I bet you’ll be much happier with your team on average than you will by going RB-RB in the first two rounds.

R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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12 Responses to “The Argument for Calvin Johnson”

  1. User avatar Mr.Joshua says:

    Nice write-up R.J. This is one of those great debates that go on this time of year. It makes alot of sence and at the same time, not sure if I’d be able to pull the trigger (not until 10-12 anyway). Not to rush through the season that hasn’t started yet…….but I’m curious to see how all of those that end up with Calvin make out.

  2. User avatar bigken117 says:

    Megatron also got tackled at the 1 yard line 6 times last season

  3. Calvin is a great argument. The guy stands alone atop the WR class. If you are in a PPR league this is not even debatable, Calvin can be taken anywhere from the #1 pick to the #10 pick. Yes, he really can be taken #1 overall. Consider his targets, numbers and TDs and the guy is a freak. Nothing is changing in Detroit, the only thing that will change is Reggie Bush may actually make defenses respect the run again – which plays VERY well for Calvin. Take him wherever you feel comfortable, but I hope I’m not #1 because I might be the guy that does it. RB’s historically have trouble reproducing productive seasons – I don’t feel as comfortable with AP, Foster, Rice, or Charles as I will with Calvin. Fantasy Football

  4. User avatar taw856 says:

    Agree 100 percent.

  5. Papa Deuce says:

    Was it really 6 times? I know my heart was broken a few times last season, but I don’t recall it being 6x.

  6. Excellent article, for I have drafted Calvin in each of my 3 leagues last year in the first round (none in the top 4 tho). This would have worked out for me VERY well, if of course it wasn’t for injuries to others. In my PPR, he is a complete stud, and if you can get this year’s Doug Martin or similar later on, this strategy works out very well.

    Ideally, you want a RB in the first or second round, however, by drafting Calvin 1st, you will be faced with that ever looming decision to take a B. Marshall, J. Jones, AJ Green, etc. in the second round, depending on where you picked in the 1st round. Leaving you with zero RB’s after 2 rounds. Can you make up for this? Sure you can. If you start with Calvin, Marshall, and say in the 3rd round, a L. Miller, Sproles, or Bush (esp. in a PPR) you are looking SOLID my friends. Add in A Le’Von Bell or E. Lacy for a #2 RB, and you could be very dangerous. If you wait on your RB’s, you just may have to grab an extra one earlier on.

    And with the depth the way it is this year, you can add that #3 WR a little later on with a top 10 QB later and your starting team could look like this (based on some ADP I have come across).

    A. Luck/Stafford – 6 (maybe early for Luck, but he is going to perform, RG3 POSS may also be here but injury risk)

    D. Sproles – 3
    L. Bell – 4

    C. Johnson – 1
    B. Marshall – 2
    Welker/Amendola/Wayne – 5

    B. Pettigrew (later on is great value)

  7. TsunamiMike says:

    My keepers are locked with P manning, A Peterson and CJ Spiller (total of 63). I have 97 bucks left in our auction format 12 team league, standard scoring with bonus points for returns (no flex). Start 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 K, 1 DST and 3 bench. Take the 3 bench, Dst and k for a dollar each 5 bucks so I’m left with 92. TE seems deep so I am thinking that WR is where it is at. As I said CJ2K will go for 50, but now that the keepers are in I can tell you who else is left based on our leagues predictions in order. The top 20 left and the projected points in our league is below:, CJ2K/231, Andre Johnson/181, Larry Fitzgerald/183, roddy white/178, V Jax/173, Wes Welker/161, Reggie Wayne/155, James jones/147, Marques Colston/167, Hakeem nicks/147, Danny amendola/152, Torrey smith/143, Dwayne bowe/162, Cecil shorts/150, tavon Austin/149, Antonio brown/146, Steve smith/152, Ty Hilton/141, mike Wallace/140, dense an Jackson/144. So you can see the next closest in points free agent wise is 48 points away (quite a jump). The only keeper TE is tony Gonzalez, now you know the lay of the land. What would you do?

    I’m trying to figure out how I play my draft, based on having 93 dollars left I have to draft 3 WR and a TE, how do I spend that money?

    Do I go for CJ2K and pay 50 and have only 43 left for a TE and 2 WR?

    Or do I play it safe and try to grab like Johnson, vjax and Wayne for an average of 29 each and have 6 for a TE?

    Or do I go for a jimmy graham for 45 and spread out the 48 among 3 receivers?

  8. ThruSeer says:

    So I really liked this post. I had already drafted Calvin Johnson at Pick 7 when I stumbled across this post. I also like to zig where my opponents like to zag. I’m doing my draft standard style with 12 teams, and we are doing an email draft, so it takes days and weeks to get through all rounds. The way it has worked out for me so far is like this….

    Round 1: Calvin Johnson
    Round 2: Chris Johnson
    Round 3: David Wilson
    Round 4: Darren Sproles
    Round 5: Dwayne Bowe

    I don’t know if this is how you envisioned the Calvin Johnson draft going down, but right now I’m considering picking up Matt Stafford in Round 6 as there are only 4 good QB’s left and by the time it gets around to my pick in Round 7, all of the top 10 QB’s left … Russell Wilson, RGIII, and Matt Stafford, will probably definately be gone.

    One thing I wish you could have clarified in your Draft build, was what kind of RB you hoped to get in Round 2. I did manage to get 2 of the 4 decent running backs you suggested in rounds 3 and 4, but wasn’t sure if my draft so far has been how you imagined it might go down. So for anybody considering, this strategy, this is what I have so far. Good luck!!!!

  9. User avatar joejlitz says:

    Just drafted yesterday. 10 team, standard scoring except TD passes are 6.
    This led to Bree’s and Rodgers going at 3 and 7. I had the 9th pick and Trent Richardson and Calvin were still there. I grabbed Trent.

    10 and 11 were Ray Rice and Peyton Manning so Calvin unexpectedly fell to me at 12. Needless to say, I’m very pleased.

  10. ThruSeer says:

    Joejlitz- That IS very pleasing. Good luck with that.

  11. User avatar ramble2 says:

    Nice article. I’m going into my draft this week. It’s not a PPR, but rec yards end up being a bit more valuable than rush yards. I’ve got the 5th pick in a 10 team draft and am hoping to get Johnson in that spot. The dilemma for me will be if Bryant, Marshall, Green or Jones are around in the 2nd round. JerseyBearGuys has a nice scenario where one ends up with a solid RB corps after going WR/WR to open a draft, but what do people think? I’d probably be looking at a Lacy/Sproles/Miller backfield. Folks think that’s enough to keep me competitive?

  12. User avatar ramble2 says:

    Just in case anyone is drafting as late as my league, here’s how this strategy played out (non-PPR league, with slight premium placed on receiving over rushing yards):

    1. Megatron
    2. Dez Bryant
    3. Steven Jackson
    4. Gore
    5. Kaepernick
    6. V. Davis
    7. D. Richardson

    So we’ll see. Not thrilled with my RB trio, but hopefully they stay healthy and get into the end zone enough to pay off. Bryant + Johnson are going to be great though. Couldn’t pass up getting my #2 WR in round 2.


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