Calvin Johnson put together a spectacular 2011 season. There is no doubt about that as it was one of the best seasons by a Detroit Lions receiver in franchise history.
However, when the bar is raised to the standard set by Barry Sanders, perhaps the greatest Lions player of all-time, Johnson’s 2011 season was merely average.
Pro-Football-Reference.com takes each players’ stats and attempts to boil it down to a single number for each season. They call this the player’s “approximate value” or “AV” for each season. If you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of the methodology, you can find a more detailed explanation on the site.
It is this “AV” number that puts Barry Sanders’ greatness into perspective given Calvin Johnson’s terrific 2011 season.
Calvin Johnson earned an approximate value of 15 in 2011, by far the best of his career high after posting values between 6 and 10 during his first four years in the NFL. By comparison, Barry Sanders averaged about 15 throughout his career (152 total “AV” in ten years). Sanders’ approximate values ranged from 10 in 1993 when he played just 11 games to 21 in 1994.
To say that an average Barry Sanders season was as valuable to the Lions as the monster year Calvin had last season isn’t shocking to those that saw Barry play. But for a new generation of Lions fans that may have only been told of the great Barry Sanders from an older brother, father or uncle, the comparison is of great importance. Lions fans of today will likely see Calvin Johnson do things no other receiver is physically capable of doing – just as Lions fans of yesterday saw with Barry Sanders as compared to other running backs.