You might have heard by now that Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson has eight touchdown receptions in the first four games of the season. That output ties an NFL record for that stretch, and it gives us (well, me) justification for tracking Johnson's progress relative to the best scoring seasons for a receiver in NFL history.
As long as Johnson keeps scoring, we'll keep revisiting the chart accompanying this post. It provides a game-by-game look at how Randy Moss caught 23 touchdown passes over 16 games in 2007. It also shows the incredible 12-game run of former record-holder Jerry Rice, who caught 22 touchdowns in 12 games in 1987. (He lost four games due to the NFL players' strike.)
As you can see, Moss had seven touchdowns through four games. Rice had five. Just sayin'.
At least one player can provide an insightful bridge between Moss and Johnson. Lions receiver Nate Burleson played with Moss in 2003 and 2004 when both were the Minnesota Vikings, and I asked him last weekend for an off-the-cuff comparison between the two.
"I can't pick one or the other, but they'll both go down as a couple of the biggest threats in NFL history," Burleson said. "They're very different. Both great playmakers. Big hands. Can track down the ball extremely well.
"But the one thing I can say about Calvin is that he runs with the ball in his hands. He's trying to create a collision once he catches it. And he blocks. That's what makes him special. That's what separates him in my eyes from the other elite receivers in this league right now. On any given play, whether he's got the ball or not, he's going to make an impact."
In the end, that level of physicality probably gives Johnson an edge on the kind of jump ball touchdown he's perfected this season. Moss knew how to outreach and out-position defenders for the ball, but Johnson's bigger body -- he's an inch taller and about 30 pounds heavier than Moss -- gives him an additional advantage.