Sports Outside the Beltway

Calvin Johnson Best Player Available in 2007 NFL Draft

Hall of Fame sportswriter Rick Gosselin reports that Calvin Johnson has been certified a “once-in-a-lifetime” wide receiver by someone who should know.

Calvin Johnson Georgia Tech Photo  Calvin Johnson (21) is a a cross between Randy Moss and Terrell Owens – bigger than Moss, faster than Owens. Chan Gailey has been around his share of quality receivers, having coached the Three Amigos (Vance Johnson, Ricky Nattiel and Mark Jackson) at Denver in the 1980s. Gailey has been around Pro Bowlers, having coached Yancey Thigpen at Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s. He also been around greatness, having coached Hall of Famer Michael Irvin in Dallas.

But Gailey has never been around a receiver like Calvin Johnson. “He’s a once-in-a-lifetime guy,” said Gailey, the head coach at Georgia Tech. “I’ve coached no one that compares to him.”

Johnson is the consensus best player in the 2007 NFL draft – a physical specimen who could rewrite the league’s prototype for the position. He has only one flaw – his position. There’s an NFL belief that you can find receiver talent deep in the draft.

But few can match Johnson’s physique and talent. He’s a cross between Randy Moss and Terrell Owens – bigger than Moss, faster than Owens.

Johnson is a giant by NFL standards at 6-5, 239 pounds. At the NFL scouting combine at Indianapolis in February, he decided to run a 40-yard dash at the last minute and scorched the turf in 4.35 seconds. The fastest cornerback in this draft is Chris Houston of Arkansas. He runs a 4.32 – but he’s seven inches shorter and 54 pounds lighter than Johnson.

Incredible. Goose is right, though: It’s highly unlikely Johnson will be the first player drafted.

There is only one flaw in his draft stock. –the belief in NFL draft rooms that you can find a receiver in every round of every draft.

Marques Colston caught 70 passes for 1,038 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie last season, helping the New Orleans Saints to an NFC South championship. The Saints found Colston in the seventh round last April.

Anquan Boldin turned in the greatest season by a rookie NFL wide receiver in 2003, catching 101 passes for 1,377 yards and eight touchdowns for the Arizona Cardinals. He was a second-rounder – the 54th overall pick and sixth wide receiver to come off the board.

There’s a belief that a receiver you take in the second round may turn out to be every bit as good as a receiver you take in the first.

That helps explain why only two wideouts have gone first overall since the AFL and NFL established a common draft in 1967 – Irving Fryar in 1984 and Keyshawn Johnson in 1996. In both cases the drafts were shallow in skill. No quarterback was selected in the first round of either draft, and the first running back didn’t go in 1984 until the 26th overall selection. Nebraska’s Lawrence Phillips was the first runner taken in 1996, and he was a character risk. So Fryar and Johnson found themselves atop draft boards almost by default.

It’ll be interesting to see who gets Johnson. Barring injury, they should be quite happy.

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