|04-25-2007, 01:31 PM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Saratoga, NY
Johnson has top talent ... but maybe not top pick
By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
Click on YouTube.com and there are more than 50 highlights that accentuate the growing legend of Calvin Johnson.
The footage adds to the notion by a range of voices that the Georgia Tech wide receiver is the best player in this weekend's NFL draft, although he's not expected to go No. 1.
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There's his signature play, a jaw-dropping, one-handed, reach-back snag Johnson made as a freshman against North Carolina State that is referred to by Yellow Jackets fans as "The Catch."
A breathtaking, last-minute, leaping touchdown haul against Clemson is also featured — and matches his Spider-Man nickname.
There are even clips of the 42˝-inch vertical jump and 11-foot, 7-inch broad jump from Johnson's pro day workout.
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"What's so amazing," says Chip Walker, Johnson's former coach at Big Sandy High School in Tyrone, Ga., "is that Calvin's been making all those spectacular catches since his junior year in high school. This did not happen overnight."
As much as NFL evaluators rely on video to size up players, there's nothing like seeing the phenom described as a Randy Moss- Terrell Owens hybrid up close and personal.
Oakland Raiders coach Lane Kiffin, whose team has the No. 1 pick, saw something beyond stunning catches and remarkable measurables when he went to the campus workout in March.
"I swear he didn't stretch," Kiffin said with an incredulous tone. "I was looking the whole time. And he jumps what, 43 inches?"
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Tom Shaw has trained 85 first-round picks, including Deion Sanders and No. 1 overall choices Peyton Manning and Michael Vick. He puts Johnson in a special category.
"They were all workaholics, but I've never seen a guy with this guy's work ethic," Shaw said. "He's a different breed. This kid is Peyton Manning. He's a guarantee."
Johnson, a three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick who thrived despite playing with unpolished quarterbacks, is the closest thing to a consensus top player in the draft.
His college coach, Chan Gailey, says he's a once-in-a-lifetime player.
"I've never had one this big, this fast with this good hand-eye coordination," says Gailey, who coached Michael Irvin, Yancey Thigpen and John Elway's Three Amigos — Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel — in the pros. "That's the stuff you can't teach."
Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage, holding the third pick, says Johnson is the player at the top of the draft teams are most likely to trade up for.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, who cautiously covets Johnson, suspects perhaps 80% of NFL teams could rate him at the top of the draft boards they use to rank prospects.
That Johnson's name was leaked last week with those of Louisville defensive tackle Amobi Okoye and Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams as top prospects who admitted during combine interviews they have tried marijuana apparently hasn't hurt his stock.
Last season Johnson won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver after leading his conference with 76 catches for 1,202 yards and 15 touchdowns, second in the NCAA. Another career stat reflecting his impact: 19 — the pass-interference flags he drew.
Eric DeCosta, the Baltimore Ravens' college scouting director, says, "He's got the fewest holes of any player in the draft."
So why isn't Johnson a lock to be the first player drafted?
The consensus among mock drafts is the Raiders will take LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell.
Since the common draft was established in 1967, two wide receivers have been chosen No. 1 overall — Irving Fryar by the New England Patriots in 1984 and Keyshawn Johnson by the New York Jets in 1996.
"Wide receivers are like '2 guards.' There are a lot of them," says Keyshawn Johnson, with his fourth team, the Carolina Panthers, and prepping for work as a studio analyst on ESPN's draft coverage. "To go No. 1, you want a guy who's special."
The list of busts among receivers taken within the top 10 picks in recent years is staggering. For every Torry Holt and Larry Fitzgerald, there are misses such as Desmond Howard and Michael Westbrook — drafted fourth overall by the Washington Redskins in 1992 and 1995.
The Cincinnati Bengals came up dry in drafting Peter Warrick fourth overall in 2000, and Charles Rogers, taken No. 2 by the Detroit Lions in 2003, is out of the league after multiple violations of its substance-abuse policy.
On the other hand, Mike Furrey led the NFC with 98 catches last season for the Lions. He entered the league as an undrafted free agent and bounced from the XFL and Arena Football League. The New Orleans Saints took Marques Colston with a 2006 seventh-round pick, and he caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards.
Owens, arguably the NFL's most dangerous receiver, was a third-round pick. And none of the last players to lead the NFL in receiving yards — Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, Carolina's Steve Smith and the Chicago Bears' Muhsin Muhammad— was chosen in the first round.
Despite such history, Keyshawn Johnson is sold on Calvin Johnson, who is not related. He said if he were to make the call for the Raiders, the receiver would be his pick at No. 1 overall.
Since 1996, he maintains, the only other receiver coming out of college worthy of being No. 1 overall was Moss, who slid to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 21 in 1998 because of character concerns.
"The only other guy with the snap-crackle-pop (since 1996) was Randy Moss," Keyshawn Johnson said. "As a GM, you want a guy who can change the game with his presence. You want the guy who immediately transcends the position, to become the player everybody wants."
Moss' draft class was topped by the Indianapolis Colts' selection of Manning, whose pick was followed by the San Diego Chargers' selection of quarterback Ryan Leaf.
In the drafts when Fryar and Keyshawn Johnson went No. 1, no quarterbacks were chosen in the first round.
The presence of Russell and Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn adds uncertainty to Calvin Johnson's stock because of the premium on quarterbacks.
"I'd love to be No. 1. Definitely," Johnson said during the combine. "(But) my goal is to go out and help any team that picks me. Get to the playoffs, win and go from there."
Asked if he thought he was the best player in the draft, he laughed.
"I feel I am the best athlete," he said. "That's the attitude I have to have."
Although Gailey has an NFL background, Gruden saw a Tech offense on film that was light on timing routes with quarterback Reggie Ball never completing better than 50% of his passes during a season with Johnson.
"They gave him a lot of quick screens and a lot of bubble screens," Gruden says of his video study.
"You just don't really see the guy on the outside edge of the numbers doing a lot of comebacks, slants or timing patterns. That's no disrespect. The guy had 80 catches for 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns, so they did a lot of great things."
Gailey says Johnson's development includes a greater appreciation for the big picture. He says Johnson drew double-coverage on at least 70% of his snaps and triple-coverage about 10% of the time. This forced him to adapt.
"We saw some of the most unusual stuff you could ever imagine," says Gailey, alluding to a play when a nickel back came from the other side of the field to join a cornerback and a safety in covering Johnson. "Just crazy stuff, where you say, 'How do they coach that?'
"The one thing he didn't see in college but will in the NFL is bump-and-run. They didn't want to take the chance that he'd get past them for a big play."
His high school coach has no doubt Johnson will prove worthy of the hype.
"You (could) tell him, 'Keep working hard and remember where you came from,' " says Walker when asked if he had any advice. "But with Calvin, you don't have to remind him of that. That's kind of the way he is."
Walker reflects on Johnson's immense talent and insists his two favorite memories have nothing to do with football. He says a school-record 315-pound power-clean lift in the weight room still resonates.
The other moment came while Johnson was horsing around in the gym.
Johnson had a student straddle in the middle of the lane on the basketball court and then proceeded to dunk on him —a la maneuvers seen in NBA slam dunk contests.
"And he didn't even play basketball anymore," Walker said.
If only the dunk could be punched up on YouTube.
"There's got to be something the guy can't do," Gruden says. "If this guy don't make it, then a lot of guys are going to be wrong."
Posted 15h 38m ago