Calvin Johnson is retiring from the NFL and more importantly, our fantasy football teams. At just 30 years of age, Johnson has left his mark on the NFL while playing on the perennially losing Detroit Lions. Megatron lived through a winless season and was only able to enjoy two winning seasons in his nine years in the league. He set the record for most receiving yards in a season, with 1,964 yards in 2012, and his 86.1 yards receiving per game is the best for any receiver with over 65 games played. Of course, his career numbers are still outside the Top-20 in most stats, which will hurt his bid for the Hall of Fame, but his dominance was obvious.
Johnson's retirement is reminiscent of the Lions' Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders, who also retired at the age of 30. Much like Megatron, Sanders suffered through some poor football, but not quite as bad, with five playoff appearances (all losses) to Megatron's two playoff appearances (all losses). The main difference between these two players is their position. Most top wide receivers have a much longer shelf life than running backs, so the early departure for a receiver is more surprising, but we've also seen Johnson dealing with nagging injuries over the last few years. His 6-foot-5 frame has taken a beating in nine years, and ankle and knee injuries have slowed him down, as seen in 2015, as his yards per reception fell to 13.8, which was by far the worst of his career. And unlike some teams, the Lions aren't on the radar for a Super Bowl appearance anytime soon. So what does a less-than-100-percent Calvin Johnson have to play for? It appears, not much.
So what will happen moving forward in Detroit? Matthew Stafford continues to prove he's not going to be a top quarterback, but he also looked much better in 2015 after Jim Bob Cooter took over the play calling mid-season, so he's probably given himself a little more leash, but to whom will he be throwing? At this point, Golden Tate is the No. 1 wide receiver for the Lions. He is a competent player and has put up good fantasy points when Johnson was sidelined, but he's still just a possession receiver, with some upside. Think Julian Edelman with Stafford throwing him the ball instead of Tom Brady. Tate's fantasy prospects get a boost for sure, as he may need to take on the top receiving role.
After Tate and Megatron, running back Theo Riddick came in third in receiving numbers on the team last season. His ability is much better as a receiver than as a runner, so there is a good chance he continues his role in 2016. The Lions will draft and look for wide receivers in free agency, but unless they sign Alshon Jeffery, which they won't, there is nobody stepping into the starting lineup who will command the targets Calvin Johnson saw last season. I could see Detroit making plays for free agents Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Brian Quick, or Mike Wallace, and any of these guys would add depth and be able to start quickly, but again, they aren't replacing Megatron fully.
Eric Ebron will most likely be the 100 percent starting tight end going into next season, with Brandon Pettigrew possibly getting cut. Add that to the loss of Johnson, and Ebron's upside is fairly high, but his ability is still in question, and he'll need to prove himself consistently if he wants to get top-10 tight end targets. But after Ebron, there are no receivers currently on the team who are NFL starters.
So, Golden Tate is the clear beneficiary, and he's very much worth keeping ahold of in dynasty and should make for a top PPR receiver next season, but after him, I'm not actively targeting any Lion in the wake of Johnson's retirement. Ebron and Riddick should have roles in the offense, but they aren't talented enough to command huge usage if Detroit were to draft a top receiver and/or sign a free agent or two.
Is there a chance Johnson doesn't retire? Of course there is. We've seen it happen before, but at the moment, this feels real and with the science on brain injuries getting scarier by the year, there's no doubt we will continue to see players who can still compete at a high level, hang up their cleats.