There are some teams that have been kicking themselves since the 2007 draft for not selecting Adrian Peterson – starting with the Oakland Raiders, who took colossal bust JaMarcus Russell. But one team that didn't question its decision was the Detroit Lions, who had embattled general manager Matt Millen dip his foot in the receiver pool once again and take Calvin Johnson with the second pick.
So impressive is Johnson that he has earned the nickname Megatron – a mechanical beast from the Transformers comic book/movie franchise. Unfortunately for opponents of Johnson, the moniker has been well-deserved. At times, it seems as though Johnson is a little more than human – with the size of a basketball player, the strength of a power lifter and the speed of a light-on-his-feet bullying victim.
Just as Peterson is climbing the all-time rushing charts in a hurry, so is Johnson on the receiving lists. In his first four seasons, Johnson has posted a pair of seasons with more than 75 catches, more than 1,100 yards and two 12-touchdown seasons. Despite being blanketed by his first two opponents and catching just nine passes, he has already caught four touchdown passes – two in each game.
As talented of offensive players the Vikings have faced in their first two games, Megatron is by far the most imposing – a fact not lost on the Vikings defense.
"He jumps out at you on tape and there isn't a lot he can't do," safety Husain Abdullah said. "He has a combination of size, speed, strength, route running. He does everything well. I'm a fan of football and he is something to watch as a fan."
The NFL is a home to many types of receivers. There are big guys who create huge targets. There are receivers that have sub-4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash. There are receivers who run precise routes and fight for the ball, whether in the end zone or roaming over the middle. Ordinarily, a team has to draft, develop or trade for three different receivers to fill those roles. Detroit found all three in one metallic package – Megatron.
"He's a freak of nature," Abdullah said. "You don't find many guys like him in the NFL or the rest of the world for that matter. He definitely is a great athlete and if you don't keep him bracketed, he will make big plays."
Michael Jenkins said he has a lot of professional respect for Johnson, who he believes is already among the most dominant receivers in the league. As fickle as first-round wide receivers are – perhaps only pass-rushing defensive ends are a bigger first-round draft gamble – Jenkins said he had a feeling on the kid from Georgia Tech and the feeling proved correct.
"I figured he would come in and be good from Day One," Jenkins said. "He came to the NFL with all the tools, and big receivers like him and Andre Johnson are the type of guys that have been able to make an impact from Day One. I kind of expected it."
About the only thing that has been able to keep Johnson from being even more dominant was that, for most of his career, he was a really big fish in a stagnant pond. However, that has changed over the last year-plus, which has made Johnson – and the rest of the Lions offense – even more dangerous.
"It would be easier if the was their only weapon, but they have a bunch of guys capable of making huge plays," Abdullah said. "Nate Burleson is an excellent receiver. [Tight end Brandon] Pettigrew can make big plays down the seam and [running back] Jahvid Best is dangerous coming out of the backfield. They have added a lot of weapons to put around him, which makes him even more dangerous. If you pay too much attention to one guy, you're liable to get beat by someone else."
Some defensive coordinators make adjustments to their defensive strategy to make sure that Johnson has to deal with two defenders on every play. However, the Vikings maintain that they change their defensive philosophy for nobody – not Michael Vick, not Peyton Manning, not Chris Johnson and not Megatron.
"We don't attack one person in our game plan," cornerback Cedric Griffin said. "This is a team sport. We have a great defense. We try to play together as one team and get it done that way."
As the Vikings look to reclaim their 2011 season, they claim – to a man – that they're not going to alter what they do in order to simply take Johnson away from quarterback Matthew Stafford. Their plan will remain the same … or so they say.
"I think it's mainly about what we do," Abdullah said. "When we do what we do and we're right, we'll be O.K."
It's ironic that Abdullah (a starting safety) would say that the team won't put any special attention to Johnson. We'll find out Sunday, but you can bet Abdullah, Jamarca Sanford and Tyrell Johnson will all be keeping an eye on Megatron to help out their cornerbacks. One on one, he may not be able to be stopped by mortal men.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
‘Megatron' has the Vikings' respect
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