ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Calvin Johnson, like almost every other college prospect in the NFL, had no control over where he was headed in the 2007 NFL draft. He did, though, have an idea of where he thought he might end up.
And it wasn’t with the Detroit Lions, who selected him with the second pick in that draft.
“I thought I would either be in Tampa or Atlanta, honestly,” Johnson said. “Both of them were not too far from the top in the draft, and I figured one of them might be able to move up. I really thought I was going to go to Tampa because I liked [Jon] Gruden, had a really good workout with those guys.”
Johnson said that Gruden brought some of his quarterbacks and receivers in for Johnson’s workout and that he felt it went well. The Buccaneers had the fourth pick in the draft and appeared enamored with Johnson -- for obvious reasons. With Atlanta, the Falcons picked eighth and Johnson is a native of suburban Atlanta.
Those seemed like solid options. Looking back now, Oakland passing on Johnson in favor of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who is out of the NFL, seems preposterous. That is the inexact nature of the draft, though, from talent evaluation to trying to figure out where you’ll go as a prospect.
In retrospect, Johnson said “it didn’t bother me” that he wasn't taken with the first pick because the Raiders are far from Georgia and he wanted to be closer to home. Detroit then selected Johnson with the No. 2 pick, and he turned into a franchise centerpiece for the Lions.
It is a franchise, though, that has struggled to win despite having the best receiver in the game, a receiver who has three straight 1,400-yard seasons and is the most difficult offensive matchup in the NFL.
Yet Johnson’s career feels incomplete because of the lack of team success for the Lions.
“It’s been, I can’t say it’s been exactly what I wanted,” Johnson said. “When I first came into the league, my first three, four years, I had a teammate from college win a Super Bowl.”
Johnson said he doesn’t want to see the rings his former teammates have because his team, the Lions, continues to try to reach the final game of the season for the first time. Although he obviously would like to reach that point, he said he can’t really be frustrated by it because there’s only so much he can do on his own.
And it’s why he looks at Detroit’s talent now and looks at his career, as he enters his eighth season, and is focused even more intently on team success.
“That’s all I’m focused on,” Johnson said. “I had great stats in my career, you know, but really you want to win. You want to get to the playoffs again. That’s a great feeling when we did a couple years ago.
“We want to get that feeling back. We have a lot of guys that have been there, that have won Super Bowls, and a coaching staff that has won Super Bowls, and it’s great to have that experience.”
Some of those players, such as Reggie Bush and Golden Tate, along with a coaching staff that has extensive playoff and Super Bowl experience as assistants, are where Johnson gets his confidence that finally he'll be able to have some of that postseason experience, as well.