Commentary

Quick Reads: Calvin Johnson's pace

The Detroit Lions wide receiver is on pace to break Randy Moss' record; can he?

Originally Published: October 3, 2011
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders
Calvin JohnsonTim Heitman/US PresswireCalvin Johnson has been unstoppable so far this season for the Detroit Lions.

Megatron's motto, as printed on the back of thousands of toy boxes in the 1980s, consisted of three simple words: "Everything is fodder." Twenty-five years later, everything in the league has been fodder for Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. His Detroit Lions are 4-0, and he has caught two touchdowns in every game this season. He's the first player to pull off that feat, and the first to catch eight touchdowns in the season's first four games. When Randy Moss set the NFL record with 23 receiving touchdowns in 2007, he had only seven scores after four games. And while Johnson is ahead of that pace right now, Moss' record is probably safe.

Between 1978 (the first year the NFL went to a 16-game schedule) and 2010, 40 receivers caught five or more touchdowns in the first four games of the year. One of them, Charlie Brown of the Washington Redskins, did so in the strike-shortened season of 1982, so we'll throw him out of our data set. The remaining 39 receivers averaged 5.5 touchdowns apiece over the first month of the season, but only 5.1 touchdowns afterward. And it's not because of a lot of missed time due to injuries -- the group averaged 15.1 games played each. Moss caught 16 touchdowns after Week 4 in 2007, but no other receivers in our group had more than 10. If we cut our sample size down to the 14 players since 1978 to catch six touchdowns in the first four weeks of the season, we see the same pattern: an average of 6.3 touchdowns in Weeks 1 to 4, 6.1 touchdowns for the rest of the year. That's bad news for Johnson (as well as for New England's Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, who each have five touchdowns through Week 4).

Looking back at the best receiving touchdown seasons in NFL history, a strong finish has proved to be more important than a fast start. A dozen men have caught 17 or more touchdowns in a single year. They averaged 4.8 touchdowns after Week 4, but 13.3 for the rest of the year. The best example of this is Jerry Rice's ridiculous 1987 campaign. In a strike-shortened year, Rice caught five touchdowns in his first four games, but 17 in his final eight games. Rice's 22-touchdown record stood for 30 years until Brady hooked up with Moss, and he pulled it off in just a dozen games.


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