- Scott Kacsmar, Football Outsiders
Calvin Johnson had what will likely be remembered as the best game of his career on Sunday, catching 14 passes for 329 yards -- the most in regulation time in NFL history -- to lead the Detroit Lions to a 31-30 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
After a Week 8 that featured just three 100-yard rushing performances (one by a quarterback), is it time to rethink the traditional value tiers for skill position players?
A classic hierarchy may look like this: Quarterbacks are most important because they touch the ball on every play. Running backs are second in touches and have to protect the quarterback; they also catch passes. Wide receivers are a distant third and tight end is last but may actually do more than a wideout if he's often used as a blocker. Even the best receiver will be lucky to see 12 targets and seven catches a game, and getting some of them to block willingly is easier said than done.
Historically, the value of contracts and draft resources spent on the positions lined up with this theory, but times may be changing.
This season has given us much to digest with the scaled-back running game: The average of 107.3 rushing yards per game is the lowest since 1999, and the 26.6 carries per game would be the fewest in the NFL's 94-year history.
A slew of injuries to receivers has left some quarterbacks (Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco) looking a bit befuddled. Brady lost Wes Welker to Denver, where Welker is now helping Peyton Manning lead the largest offensive assault since New England acquired the slot machine in 2007.
Maybe the receivers deserve more credit for their impact on a changing game. We seem to be seeing the trend in the draft -- no running backs were taken in Round 1 in 2013 -- and it seems clear that instead of trying to find the next Barry Sanders, teams should be looking for the next Calvin Johnson.
And the awards should follow, because the data show that receivers like Johnson are every bit the MVP candidates that running backs like Adrian Peterson are.
If you consider an MVP as a player who most favorably impacts a team's chances of winning a game, there's no reason to discount wide receivers -- and particularly Calvin Johnson -- as viable candidates for the honor.