Dynasty Standoff: Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green
In part two of our Dynasty Standoff series we’re going to take a look at two similar players and then decide who we would rather take to start a Dynasty franchise with. Last time we compared Michael Floyd and Keenan Allen, with Floyd narrowly being our choice.
This time around we’re moving way up the wide receiver food chain and weighing Calvin Johnson versus A.J. Green. This is a popular debate in the Dynasty community because it represents several conundrums like safety vs. upside and age vs. ability. This is our take, based on ESPN standard scoring, and you would be wise to take heed if you are in a fantasy football money league.
Fantasy Football Stats
For reference, here are the two players’ 2013 seasons by the numbers.
Calvin Johnson: 14 GP, 156 targets, 84 rec, 1,492 yards, 12 TDs. 219.2 fantasy points (#3 WR)
A.J. Green: 16 GP, 180 targets, 98 rec, 1,426 yards, 11 TDs. 208.6 fantasy points (#4 WR)
Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green: Age
Calvin Johnson: 9/29/1985 (28.7 years)
A.J. Green: 7/31/1988 (25.9 years)
Green is indeed younger – we knew that already – but the gap is not as large as many probably believe at less than 3 years apart. Green should just be entering his prime while Johnson is right in the middle of it. While age is a significant factor in Dynasty leagues, realistically there are no guarantees that Green will play longer or that he has more future seasons of high-level fantasy performance than Johnson.
Advantage: A.J. Green
Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green: Durability
Due to his physical contested-catch style and simply the large target he provides for defenders to slam into, Calvin Johnson has had his fair share of bumps and bruises over the years and they’ve started to ramp up as of late. Johnson has only missed 6 games in 7 years, but he frequently guts it out and plays hurt. 90% of Calvin is still better than most other players, however lost production is still lost production. This is less of a factor in fantasy football keeper leagues, but every little thing matters in dynasty.
Johnson’s knee(s?) appear on injury reports for seemingly multiple games every year and this offseason he finally had knee surgery to clean things up. Depending on how you look at it, the surgery itself could be a good sign or a bad sign. He also underwent a minor procedure to repair a finger.
A.J. Green has a bit more finesse to his game which spares his body some punishment. He has only missed 1 game in his 3 years as a pro, that being due to a minor knee injury in his rookie season that cleared up quickly. Injuries are going to happen in football so this could change at a moment’s notice, but Green has thus far proven remarkably durable, perhaps more so than any receiver in his age group.
Advantage: A.J. Green
Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green: Talent
Calvin Johnson has finished as the #1 fantasy receiver in 2 of the past 3 seasons. Had he not missed two contests he likely would have run away with #1 again in 2013. At 6’5″ and 236 pounds he’s a mammoth of a receiver that pops out on the TV screen at all times. He ran the same 4.35 forty-yard dash time at the Combine as DeSean Jackson who is a dwarf compared to Johnson.
Now, Johnson doesn’t quite play DJax fast, but he still has extremely uncommon speed for a man his size. That size, speed, and unparalleled leaping ability make him a physical freak, but his Hall of Fame-caliber work habits separate him from many of the other rare athletes the NFL has seen. The one knock on Johnson could be that for every insanely tough catch he makes he may drop an easy one.
A.J. Green is an A-plus athlete himself – 6’4″, 207 lbs, 4.50 dash – but there’s obviously some distance between the two as specimens. As the slightly shorter and thinner player, Green is a bit quicker and more fluid in his movements, almost like a larger Reggie Wayne. His timed speed isn’t as good as you would expect but this doesn’t appear to matter on the field as Green is an excellent deep ball receiver — although sadly, the deep ball is QB Andy Dalton’s big weakness.
The #4 fantasy receiver two years in a row, there really are no holes in Green’s game and no aspect of playing wide receiver that he isn’t elite at. He’s also known to be a hard worker like Johnson. The only thing holding Green back from achieving the same kind of record-setting production as Johnson is the team he’s on, which we’ll get to, and he doesn’t have that once-in-a-generation athleticism that’s practically a lock to see him inscribed as “MVP” on your fantasy football trophy.
Bottom line: Both players are incredible talents, arguably the best two in the NFL, but there’s a reason A.J. Green was touted as the best wide receiver prospect since Calvin Johnson and not the best since Randy Moss.
Advantage: Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green: Situation
Over the past 3 seasons, the Detroit Lions have thrown the ball 2,040 times. That’s more than any other team in football over that span and 519 of those attempts (25.44%) have gone towards Calvin Johnson. Of those 519 attempts, Johnson has converted 302 of them into catches (58.19%) — not a bad piece of trivia for a fantasy football contest, for sure.
Johnson is the focal point of the league’s most pass-heavy offense and while there is talk of the team intending to run a bit more, the team is also working diligently to improve QB Matthew Stafford’s accuracy and consistency which should help offset any loss. Often double or even triple teamed by defenders, the Lions then made an effort to take heat off of Johnson by signing WR Golden Tate and drafting TE Eric Ebron. Johnson’s targets may be down, but his conversion rate may shoot up. At the moment there may be no better situation for a top-flight receiver to excel in fantasy leagues.
Over that same time period, the Cincinnati Bengals have passed 1,662 times. That’s towards the middle of the pack in the NFL and nearly a full Bengals season fewer than the Lions. Even though they’ve passed less, Green’s 460 targets are not far behind Johnson’s and they make up for a larger percentage of his team’s throws (27.68%). His conversion rate on those targets is slightly lower though at 56.52%.
Andy Dalton is not the same level of talent as Matthew Stafford, but surprisingly he has kept A.J. Green’s numbers afloat. Over the offseason the Bengals’ offensive coordinator moved on to coach Washington and this could hurt Green’s numbers. New OC Hue Jackson is a run-first coach by nature and has designs on scaling back the team’s passing attempts. Green will still get his, but any improvement individually could be washed out. The Bengals are not a bad situation for Green, but it’s clearly not the Lions situation either.
Advantage: Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson vs. A.J. Green: Cost
Current ADP data at DynastyLeagueFootball.com has both of these players in the top 2 overall picks on average and currently A.J. Green is just barely taken more often in the top spot over Calvin Johnson. The difference is negligible and over the offseason the two have swapped spots back and forth. Technically Johnson has the cost advantage today, but it’s so close it should really be considered a draw in most fantasy football leagues.
OUR FINAL DECISION
A.J. Green is nearly the perfect Dynasty wide receiver to build a franchise with. He’s young, healthy, productive, consistent, and a tremendous talent on the upswing. He has no notable flaws and even though the average NFL fan would heckle the pick, I couldn’t fault anyone for taking the safer man in Green over Calvin Johnson.
All that being said, Johnson is still the premier wide receiver in the NFL and projects to be for several more years to come. The age difference and health concerns of Johnson are something to consider for sure, but the raw numbers Johnson can provide are on another level and I believe are more likely to lead a Dynasty team to a few fantasy football plaques. There’s simply no other receiver out there that offers the 2,000 yard and 20 touchdown upside of Megatron. Calvin doesn’t just sell Detroit Lions tickets, he sells front-row seats to a more dominant fantasy football team.
Winner: Calvin Johnson
Who would YOU take in a Dynasty league?