To trade or not to trade Megatron, that is the question. With apologies to William Shakespeare, who probably would have loved Fantasy Football had he tried it, that's the topic on the mind of everyone who has suffered along with Calvin Johnson's less-than-stellar statistics this season.
But after crunching the numbers, there are actually striking similarities for most of Johnson's numbers from last year and this year -- with one very obvious difference. Through his first seven games in 2011, Johnson was targeted 67 times and caught 41 passes for 679 yards and 10 touchdowns. Through his first seven games in 2012, Johnson was targeted even more -- 75 times -- and caught 41 passes for 638 yards but just one touchdown -- a Week 3 pass from Shaun Hill.
In the Lions' most recent game vs. the Seahawks, Johnson did not look well. It's been known he's been dealing with a sore knee and it looked like it affected him on a number of plays. There were multiple times where he was slow to get up and admitted he's playing in pain. He also had three drops in the game, and they're not his first drops on the season. According to Stats, Inc., Johnson has six drops through seven games, tied for the most of any receiver, and it doesn't include plays where he had the ball knocked away or where he lost possession when he falls to the ground. Two of those drops were in the end zone. Regardless, Johnson has left a lot of stats on the field.
And if Fantasy owners could get points for receivers drawing coverage, Johnson would still be a stud. It goes without saying that he's been seeing constant double- and triple-teams, especially in the red zone, and it's finally started to pay off for the Lions' other receivers who are open as a result (see Ryan Broyles' touchdown in Week 8 as an example).
The double teams aren't going away. The knee injury looks pretty significant and even though he's playing through it, there's some thought it's impacting his production. And as other receivers step up, the more 'decoy' he'll play, especially in the red zone. In fact, it's happening already -- check out the coverage the Seahawks paid to Johnson that opened up Ryan Broyles for an easy score last week. Even with the Lions' offense playing well last week, these are reasons to shop Johnson, assuming you're not getting offered peanuts for him.
But in case you're not convinced, here's one more factor: His schedule. The Lions play at Jacksonville this week before a challenging slate to end the season where every opponent is currently above .500 (that does include a home date with the 4-3 Colts). The nasty part comes in November when the Lions play at the Vikings, which is typically tough for them, before hosting the Packers and Texans within a five-day span. That puts a lot of pressure on a banged-up player like Johnson to come up big against tough defenses, even ones he's familiar with.
Giving Johnson away isn't an option -- he's just not worth pawning off for a couple of mid-level starters. But if the opportunity arises to trade him for a comparable stud -- a Jimmy Graham, a Doug Martin or even Willis McGahee, the thought here is to do it either this week or next week after he (hopefully) dominates the Jaguars.
Let's take a look at some trades involving Johnson in CBSSports.com leagues:
Calvin Johnson for Ryan Mathews: This is the kind of trade I think is acceptable for Johnson. While I might prefer another back -- one that is assured work on passing downs and/or the goal line -- at least Mathews is a heavy-volume runner with a favorable schedule ahead of him.
Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings for Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace: I don't like this move for the Johnson owner. Not only are you settling for less than ideal value for Johnson and Jennings, but you're getting two receivers on the same team. Maybe in a PPR league this deal comes close if Jennings indeed misses time. This smacks of an impatient owner willing to drop Johnson for anything decent.
Calvin Johnson, Aaron Hernandez and Felix Jones for Ray Rice: Owners shouldn't expect to trade Johnson straight up for Rice -- he's too good of a stud for Calvin right now -- so pairing him with other talent is pretty much the only way to get to Rice. The only way this deal works for the Johnson/Hernandez/Jones owner is if he has great depth at receiver and tight end. If he doesn't, he's giving away plenty of points for just one back who has 20-point potential from week to week but has actually hit that mark just twice in seven games.
Calvin Johnson and Alex Green for Darren McFadden and Heath Miller: Here's a sensational trade if you're giving up Johnson. Darren McFadden himself isn't having the most phenomenal year, but he's been putting up decent stats of late (13-plus points in two of his last three) and Miller is having an outstanding year. Both are instant starters, whereas Green isn't and Johnson could have up and down moments the rest of the way.