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Congratulations, Justin Jefferson.
You have officially impressed one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.
Calvin Johnson told Bleacher Report that Jefferson’s incredible one-handed snag during crunch time of the Minnesota Vikings’ Week 10 victory over the Buffalo Bills was his “favorite ever” catch thanks to the “situation and ability shown there.”
“I love what Justin Jefferson is doing,” the Hall of Famer said. “I love what Ja’Marr Chase is doing. And A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel and DK [Metcalf]. I love what these young guys are doing with these crazy plays. I’m a big fan of all of those guys for sure.”
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JUSTIN JEFFERSON OH MY GOODNESS 😱🤯
It was Jefferson’s catch on 4th-and-18 that saved the game that stood out the most, but all of those wide receivers still have some work to do to catch up to the best pass-catcher in Detroit Lions history.
Johnson finished his career with 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns, which are all franchise-best numbers. The No. 2 overall pick of the 2007 NFL draft built a resume that included six Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro nods while playing all nine seasons with the Lions.
While he is partially remembered for a shocking retirement since he was seemingly still in the middle of his prime after going over 1,000 receiving yards in his final six seasons, there have been few singular talents as remarkable as Johnson.
He was unguardable at 6’5″ with the ability to high-point passes, jump over defenders to come down with contested catches, and blow past cornerbacks in the open field as a nightmare matchup.
Detroit Lions @Lions
Throwing it back to the first of Calvin Johnson’s franchise-record 8⃣3⃣ touchdown catches 👀#TBT pic.twitter.com/X7vpsz148c
His 1,964 receiving yards in 2012 still stands as the highest single-season mark in NFL history, and he posted double-digit touchdown catches four times, including when he led the league in 2008.
It came as no surprise when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class, and he has enjoyed letting it sink in with the induction in the rearview mirror.
“It’s been great over the last year just getting to spend some time around the other Hall of Famers and getting to know some of them,” Johnson said. “This whole year has been totally different and experiencing it from a different perspective and not having to worry about a speech. It’s just been great spending time with them. There’s some very cool guys, and it’s the history of football in one room. It’s a very special fraternity to be a part of.”
It may be some time until the Lions have another wide receiver capable of joining that fraternity, but the future is bright at the position for the franchise.
Detroit used the No. 12 overall pick of the 2022 NFL draft on Jameson Williams, who is yet to play as a rookie as he recovers from a torn ACL he suffered in college. When he does take the field, he will join the 23-year-old Amon-Ra St. Brown as a potential dynamic one-two punch.
All St. Brown did as a fourth-round draft pick and rookie last season was post 912 receiving yards, and he has followed with 56 catches for 594 yards and three touchdowns in nine games this year.
Amon-Ra St. Brown powers his way to the goal line!@Lions take the lead in ATL. #OnePride
📺: #DETvsATL on FOX
📱: NFL app pic.twitter.com/bBWOMkRgeq
“I sent my respects because he’s definitely holding it down for the receiver position here in Detroit,” Johnson said while revealing he ran into St. Brown while out for dinner. “I appreciate all the work he’s put in, and it’s always cool to see some of the background stories on Hard Knocks too this past season.”
When he isn’t showing love to the current generation of Lions wide receivers, Johnson is partnering with NFL ALL DAY, the league’s exclusive digital video highlight NFT platform that allows fans to gather digital collectibles of some of their all-time favorite plays.
“It’s cool getting to showcase some of the bright moments from my heyday,” Johnson said. “In particular, the three-touchdown game against Philly back in 2015 and also my almost-one-hand and toe-drag swag touchdown against the Green Bay Packers. Being able to share those games with our fans and become closer to the fans. It’s been great to be in contact with them and do something with and for them.”
NFL ALL DAY is highlighting that three-touchdown performance against the Philadelphia Eagles during the holiday season since it came on Thanksgiving in 2015. Fans who complete the Calvin Johnson Challenge starting Wednesday will earn a moment celebrating that showing.
Photo Credit: NFL All Day
“Looking at the highlights from that game, I was very dialed in,” Johnson said. “Matthew [Stafford] was throwing fastball every time, and the first one in that game was probably like a 20- or 25-yard pass where I was already inside the 10-yard line on my fade route. He was just letting go of the ball, but it met me halfway into the end zone and the only way to catch it was really to bring it in over my shoulder. It’s just timing, and fortunately we were able to do it all the time in practice. But to see it live, it’s like ‘hey, how did I do that?'”
That was the final Thanksgiving game Johnson played in his career, which was a relief for opposing secondaries.
After all, he is arguably the greatest player in Turkey Day history and set an NFL record with seven straight Thanksgiving games with touchdowns. He held the record with eight career Thanksgiving touchdowns even before that game against the Eagles, which pushed his total up to 11.
“I grew up watching that game, and there’s only like two or three games that day, so it’s almost like a playoff game,” Johnson said of playing on Thanksgiving. “I was always extremely hyped for it because you know everyone is watching. You obviously want to win that game and go enjoy that turkey with the family too.”
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Johnson didn’t do all the work on all those Thanksgiving touchdowns.
Stafford was the quarterback delivering him dimes during the last seven years of the wide receiver’s career. They will always be linked together from their time in Detroit, especially since the duo was the driving force behind two playoff appearances.
The first one snapped a streak of 11 straight seasons without a playoff appearance for the Lions, but they were never able to take the next step and reach the Super Bowl.
Stafford was, though, when he took the Los Angeles Rams to the championship last season after the Lions traded him to the NFC West club.
“It was awesome seeing him in one year go over there and do it,” Johnson said. “It just shows what culture does, and what you have to do to win it all. You’ve gotta go all in when you have the opportunity. And you saw L.A. do that … Matthew going in and doing it in the first year, it meant everything for all of us who were in Detroit.”
It might also help Stafford one day join his former No. 1 wide receiver in Canton, Ohio, as a Hall of Famer.