A.J. Green ready to step into Calvin Johnson's vacuum.
Calvin Johnson said Tuesday he has caught his last NFL ball. But a trio of wide receivers led by the Bengals' A.J. Green has left the league in good hands when it comes to replacing the decade's most dominant receiver.
After nine seasons and 135 games, Johnson finished in the top ten of what is known as the wide receiver's Triple Crown for a minimum 100-game career. But Green is also staking his claim to the jewels.
After five seasons and 76 games, Green is on pace to crack the top ten in all three. His 81.2 yards per game would be second only to Johnson's all-time best of 86.1. His 5.46 catches would be in fifth place, just behind Larry Fitzgerald's 5.5 catches per game and just ahead of Anquan Boldin's 5.42 and Johnson's 5.41. Green's .592 touchdowns per game would be just behind Johnson's .615 in ninth place.
The Triple Crown stat is courtesy of Mike Chappell, who holds the Indianapolis vote on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. If Green's numbers hold up, he'll be before the board not long after he retires. He'll probably have to play longer than Johnson's nine seasons because the short career makes Johnson a borderline candidate. If Johnson is "Megatron," with his ballistic career year of 2012, then Green is "Monotron," with his gliding, glacial stability.
"We love him. He's a very consistent player," says Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. "Tall and fast is a good combination."
How good is Green?
Only three other receivers besides Johnson are currently in the top ten for receptions per game and yards per game as well as touchdowns per game after playing at least 100 games. Two are Hall-of-Famers, Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison, and the other is a potential finalist in Sterling Sharpe.
How good is Green?
Good enough to flirt with Megatron's decimal points. In projecting his next four total seasons, Green is on pace to have more catches than Johnson in the same 135 games with 737 (731 for Johnson) and not quite as many yards with 10,960 (11,619 for Johnson) or touchdowns with 80 (83 for Johnson).
But Green has close company with his NFC soulmate from the 2011 draft, Atlanta's Julio Jones, and the meal ticket of the Bengals' arch division rival, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown. In just 65 games Jones is on pace to be the all-time leader in catches per game (6.36) and yards per game (95.4) with Brown, in 86 games, right behind Jones at 6.12 catches per game and right behind Johnson with 82.47 yards per game as he becomes the first of the three to close in on the 100-game barrier this season.
Both have lower touchdown rates than Green with Jones at .523 and Brown at .442.
With receiving numbers exploding more and more each season, it's harder and harder to isolate Hall-of-Fame wide receivers with each era so wildly different than the next in style. But a Triple Crown of averages gives you a pretty good idea and Green is right in the conversation.
Here's a look at the minimum 100-game receiving Triple Crown with the projected numbers of Green, Jones, and Brown added:
*RECEPTIONS PER GAME *
1-Julio Jones 6.36; 2-Antonio Brown 6.12; 3-Brandon Marshall 5.8026; 4-Marvin Harrison 5.8000; 5-Andre Johnson 5.7; 6-Larry Fitzgerald 5.5; 7-A.J. Green 5.46; 8-Anquan Boldin 5.42; 9-Calvin Johnson 5.41; 10-Sterling Sharpe 5.3
YARDS PER GAME
1-Julio Jones 95.4; 2-Calvin Johnson 86.1; 3-Antonio Brown 82.5; 4-A.J. Green 81.2; 5-Torry Holt 77.4; 6-Marvin Harrison 76.7; 7-Andre Johnson 76.2; 8-Jerry Rice 75.6; 9-Michael Irvin 74.9; 10-Lance Alworth 74.2.
TOUCHDOWNS PER GAME
1-Don Hutson .853; 2-Randy Moss .716; 3-Terrell Owens .699; 4-Art Powell .692; 5-Marvin Harrison .674; 6-Jerry Rice .650; 7-Lance Alworth .620; 8-Calvin Johnson .615; 9-A.J. Green .592; 10-Sterling Sharpe .580.
"Megatron," left behind some great numbers. But "Monotron," and the gang are coming after him.
FREE AGENCY UPDATE: There were some signings that leaked out Tuesday even though the first day players can change teams is Wednesday. Some Bengals are expected to be among the first wealthy wave of Wednesday's opening bell at 4 p.m.
They are hoping they can re-sign as many as possible, but reports have them in stiff competition for at least four starters in wide receiver Marvin Jones, cornerback Adam Jones, and safeties Reggie Nelson and George Iloka.
Jones has had a high profile week, capping it off with an appearance on ESPN2's "First Take," Tuesday morning. Jones, who has spent the last six seasons in Cincinnati, made no bones about the presence of several former Bengals coaches that may have become suitors, such as Hue Jackson in Cleveland, Vance Joseph in Miami, and Mike Zimmer in Minnesota, although it's believed Zimmer has his eye on the safeties. Jones went as far to call Jackson and Zimmer "father figures,' and Joseph "like a brother."
Where that leaves Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis after he helped revive Jones' career in 2010 is unclear, although Jones said last week his first choice is to come back and Lewis has also said he wants him back.
But Jones indicated he's looking to see what happens Wednesday.
"They've offered me," Jones said of the Bengals. "I just feel the best thing for me and my family right now is to wait for free agency. I've waited a whole year."