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Megatron: “Revenge of the Fallen”

I hope you like stats, because I’ve got a bunch of them to throw at you. In school, I absolutely hated math. But I find myself relying on statistics and actually enjoying a good mathematical breakdown when it comes to fantasy football. I’m a huge advocate of not using stats as the sole means of judging players’ values. They can be misleading and often get you into trouble. But, what they do offer is a look into what a player is capable of. It is only week one and many owners are hitting the panic button. Things ranging from Kevin Kolb’s concussion to Jonathan Stewart’s shortage of stats have people biting their nails and tapping their feet in anxiety. To be honest, there is only one freakout that really deserves a good temper tantrum, and that right belongs only to Ryan Grant owners for the moment. Even Sidney Rice owners sat back and said, “I guess things could be worse.” But getting back to Calvin Johnson, some owners in “Fantasy Land” are getting ready to make a big mistake. Don’t be that guy. Someone is going to get low balled in a trade for Johnson and be sorely disappointed come season’s end.

Yes, losing one’s quarterback is never a good thing. There is only a small amount of cases in which the backup can be as formidable as the starter being replaced. Let’s try to forget the Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady, Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, and Michael Vick and Matt Schaub types of scenarios. Ninety-nine times of a 100 the backup will not be as good of an option as the starter was. But really, how good was Matthew Stafford to begin with? If you went into this season predicting anything more than 20 touchdowns and almost as many interceptions, then you were way too optimistic. I had Stafford pegged for something along the lines of 2,500-3,000 yards and somewhere in the high teens in both scores and picks. But, it’s true that Stafford was the starter due to being the best option on the team at the position. He’s got the talent of a No. 1 pick overall and the potential to eventually be one of the better quarterbacks in the league. But, it wasn’t going to happen in his sophomore year. Whether he missed time to injury or not.

But, Johnson has proven that he doesn’t need a top talent at quarterback to put up elite numbers. The best case that I can muster is the one that I raised under my profile name “Bradysbombers” on the shark tank topic about Johnson. The best case of argument is evidenced from the 2008 Detroit Lions. The Lions started five different quarterback that season. Here’s the stat-line overview from the quarterback position.

Dan Orlovsky – 1,616 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT
Jon Kitna – 758 yards, 5 TD, 5 INT
Drew Stanton – 119 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
Daunte Culpepper – 786 yards, 4 TD, 6 INT
Drew Henson – awful with a mix of who cares?

Together, this pathetic squad of supposed quarterbacks combined for 3,279 total yards passing with 18 touchdowns versus 19 interceptions. Johnson caught 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns from those totals. Amazing! He had elite wide receiver production with literally nothing worth noting behind center.

Yes, Shaun Hill was a backup for a reason. He isn’t the same caliber of talent as the starting quarterbacks in the NFL. That is true. But as much as I agree that he’s a step back from Stafford, I argue that he isn’t as far back as that quarterback committee from 2008. The truth is, Hill is actually a decent quarterback when given the opportunity to be. He’s only had 16 total starts in his entire career. The NFL regular season is only 16 games, so Hill’s stat-line resembles what he could accomplish if given a full season’s starting work load. Here’s what Shaun Hill’s stats for his career starts in the NFL are:

2007 – 501 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT (two starts)
2008 – 2,046 yards, 13 TD, 8 INT (eight starts)
2009 – 943 yards, 5 TD, 2 INT (six starts)

Condensed into a single 16-game season that brings us to totals of 3,490 yards, 23 TD, 11 INT.

Not that bad when given the chance, huh? That’s more than 200 more yards, five more touchdowns and eight less interceptions that the Lions’ quarterbacks from 2008. The season where Johnson had 12 touchdowns! And it’s actually about the same as what the expectations for Stafford should have realistically been coming into the season, if not an improvement.

In addition to noting that Johnson can work with less talented quarterbacks, and that Hill is still an upgrade over the quarterbacks from Johnson’s best season, it’s worth recognizing the tendencies of backup quarterback play. When quarterbacks haven’t had the chance to practice with the first-team offense and really get to know player’s tendencies, they tend to lean heavily on their No. 1 guy. Johnson had one target from Stafford in the first half of football last week, whereas Hill targeted him four times on the game-ending drive alone. And Hill would have looked better on paper if that Johnson touchdown wasn’t reversed. The Lions made many good moves this offseason between free agency and draft choices. But trading for Hill could be one of the better, solid moves. If Hill wasn’t on the roster, the Lions would be starting Drew Stanton this week.

‘Megatron’ Johnson is a member of an exclusive club in the NFL. He alone is the biggest factor in his overall value. Only his injuries and issues affect his value significantly. Hill could prove to be a Matt Cassel type of filler for when Tom Brady went down. Yes, Randy Moss’ stats took a hit, but he was still one of the best fantasy receivers in the league that season. I’d take a healthy Stafford over Hill, but I’ll take Hill over any other quarterback that the Lions have started in the last decade.  Johnson will once again be one of the most targeted receivers in the NFL this season, whether it comes from Hill or from Stafford. His immediate value stays the same for the mean time. But, if Johnson can once again prove that he himself is solely in control of the stats, his keeper value increases. Eventually he and Stafford will be healthy together and on the same page for an entire season. Until then, he’s still a Sunday start. Week 2 may hinder my point of view just because Asante Samuel will be on Johnson for the entire game, but the overall theme remains. The targets should be there for Johnson come Sunday, but Samuel won’t make life very easy. If Johnson’s production is lacking on Sunday, it would be more likely thanks to that Philadelphia defense and less likely due to Hill’s inabilities. Johnson is a beast, and when he himself is healthy, he’s a top-three talent at wide receiver. There is no need to implode your team yet. Leave the worrying for the guys that have real reasons to be.

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