Arguably the two best wide receivers will be showcased in the same game as the Lions and Cowboys kickoff in a little less than an hour.
Dez Bryant has mentioned that he feels he can do a lot of what Calvin does, while also saying: “He is the best at what he does and I am the best at what I do”.
Bryant has never lacked confidence and the amount of it he has matches his talent level. But really, is there a possibility that Bryan is at the same level as Calvin Johnson?
The consensus in the last three seasons has been that Calvin Johnson, also known as “Megatron”, is the best receiver in the league. Last season he broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season, totalling 1964 yards on a beastly 122 catches.
However, Dez Bryant, in his first 50 games compared to Johnson, actually has more touchdown receptions, receiving yards, catches yards and yards after the catch. Since the midway point of last season, Bryan has averaged 1.1 touchdown passes per game.
You would have to factor in that Calvin had a few nagging injuries during the start of his career and Matthew Stafford’s pleathora of early career injuries, meant that Calvin was catching passes from the likes of Dan Orlovski and Shaun Hill.
The gap between the best pass catchers in the league is dwindling to the point where it is time to look at them from another angle, outside of stats. Let’s look at the tale of the tap between the two.
Hands: This one is tough as I would not call Bryant or Johnson as having the best hands in the league. There are time, albeit very unlikely, that they drop passes they shouldn’t. Johnson’s drop percentage was at 5.7% last season, while Bryant’s was at 6.5%. They both combined for 20 dropps, with Calvin getting 11 and Bryant nine. Keep in mind, Johnson caught 30 more passes than Bryant last season as well. This season, Johnson’s is at 6.4% and Bryant’S 2.9%, with the latter only dropping two balls so far. In fact, since Bryant has been in the league, he has less drops (19) than Johnson (30). This one is very close, but I will have to call this one a draw.
Route running: This is always hard to judge because as T.V. watchers of the NFL, we are not privy to the “all-22” view. Bryant though has been criticized in the past for running indecisive routes and not being as disciplined in the routes he runs. Edge to Johnson.
Athleticism: Although having freak-type athleticism is not a pre-requisite to being an elite wide receiver, as Jerry Rice, Steve Largent and Marvin Harrison can attest to, it certainly does not help. For this category, Johnson wins by a landslide. At 6’5, 240 lbs, Johnson is an absolute matchup nightmare. He draws up constant double teams not only while the ball is in play, but also pre-snap at the goaline. At his size, running a 4.4 40-yard dash should be illegal and his aerial assault, as you will see last week against the Bengals, elevates him (no pun intended) to another level. Dez has great physical tools as well and as he has been in the league for four season’s now, you see him use his size more effectively on smaller corners. Still, it simply does not compare to Johnson, who is literally a tight end with kick-returner like speed. Edge to Johnson
From a touchdown standpoint, Bryant is simply getting into the endzone and at an alarming rate. I mentioned his 1.1 touchdowns per game since the mid-way point of the 2012 season. His catches per touchdown down rate in this first 3 season’s is also in Bryant’s favor as well with 7.6 compared to Johnson’s 8.9 during that same time frame.
The conclusion? Johnson still dwarfs Bryant, but the gap is closing at a rapid pace. Johnson obviously gets targeted more as the Lions have had less weapons in the last three seasons. Bryant loses targets to the likes of Jason Witten and Miles Austin. What can be said is that Bryant makes the most of his targets and catches and has been terrific this season converting red-zone or goaline targets into touchdowns. His redzone target percentage is at 67%, compared to Johnson’s at 36% (via Bleacher Report). You will repeatedly see Tony Romo going to Bryant, one or two yards out of the goal, as opposed to running the football.
Calvin has some major competition to his crown as the league’s best receiver. If you don’t consider him that anymore and feel Dez has taken over the throne, that would not be a crazy thought at all.