Unfortunately, neither a GPS device nor MapQuest offer solutions. Entering his ninth NFL season with the Houston Texans, the highinthesaddle wide receiver has the metro area's sprawling 575mile freeway system down like a simple squarein. Likewise, the palm treelined avenues of South Florida, where the Miami native attended college, offer familiar paths for the allworld wide receiver.
Regardless of what route Johnson chooses, on the field or off, the 63, 225pound star is anything but directionally challenged. Still, he seems to vanish. That has everything to do with the lack of a defined persona, not his peerless play.
The softspoken but fearless 30yearold playmaker often is drowned out in the cacophony generated by famous divas who play his position. Additionally, the sporting public's seeming nearindifference to him Houstonians and fantasy football fans excluded, of course results in a low Qrating and lack of mass appeal.
9. Brandon Lloyd (9) Denver Broncos
10. Dwayne Bowe (8) Kansas City Chiefs
Others receiving votes: Wes Welker, New England Patriots (7); Miles Austin, Dallas Cowboys (6); Brandon Marshall, Miami Dolphins (3); Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints (2); Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers (2); Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh Steelers (2); Hines Ward, Steelers (2); Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers (1).
About the voting: The panel was made up of seven USA TODAY NFL staffers. Firstplace votes are worth 10 points, secondplace votes nine points, etc.
So while Johnson's steelblue Texans jersey and snazzy striped gloves hang in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his memorable 2008 season (115 catches, 1,575 yards, eight touchdowns), his popularity lags behind his performance. At the end of the 2010 season, Johnson's No.
Johnson's enormous talents, bolstered by his diligence and desire to retire as the most highly regarded pass catcher in NFL history, have not been overlooked by USA TODAY Sports Weekly. The bestpaid wide receiver in history, the fivetime Pro Bowl selection and fourtime allpro pick tops Sports Weekly's list of the best at the position.
In 2010, despite missing three games with a high ankle sprain, Johnson hauled in 86 passes for 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the NFL in receiving yards per game (93.5).
"Handsdown, he is the No. 1 receiver in the league,'' says Indianapolis Colts cornerback Melvin Bullitt, a member of a defensive backfield forced to flail about trying to corral Johnson during two AFC South divisional games this year.
"When you put together the size of a (passrushing) defensive end, the speed of a cornerback and the hands of a wide receiver, you have a deadly combination,'' Bullitt adds. "The guy is just amazing. The catches he makes his speed the perfection of his route running. He truly is a special player.''
Rounding out Sports Weekly's top five receivers are, in order: Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals), Roddy White (Atlanta Falcons), Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions) and Reggie Wayne (Colts). The second group of five: Greg Jennings (Green Bay Packers), DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia Eagles), Santonio Holmes (New York Jets), Brandon Lloyd (Denver Broncos) and Dwayne Bowe (Kansas City Chiefs).
"I really like this crop,'' ESPN television analyst Trent Dilfer says. "(Colleague) Cris (Carter) works with some of them in the offseason, and he is as excited about the receiver position as he ever has been with how they approach their craft. Many of them are rejecting the diva label. Andre, Larry, Roddy, Calvin, et al., are the poster children.''
To increase his public profile, perhaps Johnson should occasionally pout. Or maybe spout off. Or he could engage in more highprofile brawls as he did last season when he uncharacteristically was baited into a helmetless fist fight with Tennessee Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. (Both were ejected; Johnson, who was the winner via a consensus decision, later apologized.)
A more preferable answer would be for his Texans to make their first playoff appearance. The franchise was formed in 2002, and Johnson joined the fledgling team as the No. 3 overall selection in the 2003 NFL draft.
Since then, he has done everything he can to put the Texans on the map and in the postseason, to no avail.
Career stats rank with alltime greats
No player in NFL history with at least 100 games played has averaged more receiving yards per game (79.7). Johnson's 5.85 receptions per game for his career is virtually tied for first alltime with Anquan Boldin of the Baltimore Ravens (5.86) among players with a minimum of 500 catches. And only Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice (15) has posted more games with at least 10 receptions and 100 yards. (Johnson has 14, tied with Marvin Harrison.)
The wide receiver lets his onfield deeds do his boasting, not offfield tweets.
"I just go out and play, man,'' Johnson says. "I am not a rahrah guy.''
Johnson's productivity is even more impressive when you consider that he began his career for a secondyear franchise and labored under longgone quarterback David Carr (.293 winning percentage) from 2003 to 2006. Now he has a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Schaub, a reliable flinger with whom he has developed a wonderful chemistry, leading Johnson to say, "From the day Matt got here (in 2007), we had a bond between us.''
Hall of Fame wide receiver James Lofton observes that "being a (great) wide receiver is like being in a good marriage.''
"You have to have a great quarterback to really make it work,'' says Lofton, a CBS Radio analyst. "Andre and Roddy (with Falcons' quarterback Matt Ryan) have been able to build that chemistry. The fact that Larry is still thought of among the top three wide receivers really is a credit to what he did with (retired Cardinals quarterback) Kurt Warner."
Fitzgerald played last season without the benefit of a consistently reliable signalcaller after Warner's retirement. Even as the Cardinals struggled to survive through the Derek AndersonMax HallJohn Skelton quarterback carousel, he continued to thrive. He produced his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl season (90 catches for 1,137 yards), although he tied a careerlow in touchdowns (six).
For the last few seasons, the debate has raged: Who, in theory, is the NFL's No. 1 wideout Johnson or Fitzgerald? White has inserted himself into the conversation by averaging 96 catches, more than 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns the last three seasons, including an NFLleading 115 receptions and a franchiserecord 1,389 yards in 2010.
Falcons' White knows he's third best
A willing and able No. 3 in the Sports Weekly poll, White, 29, readily acknowledges, "I can't knock 'em and say I should be ahead of (Johnson and Fitzgerald). There has been no dropoff from those guys. I just have to work my way up the list to No. 1.''
White pauses, then admiringly adds with a giggle, "(Johnson) is so big, so strong and runs so fast, that it's kind of unfair."
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