Bryant has the most room to grow
Bryant is just a few years younger, which is why he'd be a better bet as a building block.
Bryant, who turns 25 next month, is just about to enter his prime. Megatron, 28, is already in the middle of his.
We've already seen Johnson's record-setting ceiling. Bryant, as Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said, is just starting to scratch the surface of his immense potential.
Fifty games into his NFL career, Bryant has 242 catches for 3,440 yards and 33 touchdowns, plus a couple of scores on punt returns. Those numbers compare favorably across the board to Johnson's totals from his first 50 games (217 catches, 3,362 yards, 26 touchdowns).
Granted, Megatron didn't have the luxury of breaking into the league on a team that featured a legitimate franchise quarterback in his prime, as Bryant did with Tony Romo. But there is an apples-to-apples comparison between the two.
With Jon Kitna as the Detroit Lions' starting quarterback, Johnson caught 48 passes for 756 yards and four touchdowns in 15 games as a rookie in 2007. A few seasons later, rookie Bryant caught 27 passes for 350 yards and five touchdowns in seven games with Kitna at quarterback after a broken collarbone ended Romo's season.
Right now, Johnson is rightfully recognized as the game's premier receiver. Even Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones acknowledged as much on his radio show Tuesday morning.
"Dez can aspire to be that and has a chance to be that," Jones said on KRLD-FM.
The numbers indicate that the gap between Bryant and Johnson isn't too wide. In fact, Bryant has put up better numbers than Johnson in a couple of key categories since the Cowboys receiver emerged as an elite weapon in the second half of last season.
Since Week 10 of 2012, a span covering almost a full season, Bryant leads the league with 16 touchdown catches. Johnson is tied for fourth with 10 touchdowns in that timeframe.
Johnson has a league-high 1,689 receiving yards on 107 catches during that span, while Bryant ranks third with 1,448 yards on 92 catches. But Bryant caught 65 percent of the balls thrown to him, compared to 59 percent for Johnson.
Want to pick between two premier receivers as long-term centerpieces? If it's close, go with the guy who has the most room to grow.
No question Johnson is best
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Can I start -- and potentially end -- this argument by placing a gif of Calvin Johnson's touchdown catch in triple coverage on Sunday against Cincinnati, stop typing and walk away from the laptop?
I can't? Oh well.
The case for Johnson is simple. Almost every defensive back who has faced him this season and almost every receiver, as well, has deemed him the best if not one of the best in the game. He has breakaway speed, leaping ability and can take shots over the middle if he has to.
One of the incompletions thrown to him Sunday resulted in Johnson taking a tough enough shot to knock off his helmet, but he popped right back up.
Don't get me wrong, Dez Bryant is talented and is one of the top three or four receivers in the NFL. But there is no question Johnson is the top receiver in the NFL and has been for the last few seasons.
He is the NFL's single-season yardage leader after gaining 1,964 last season. He is on pace for 1,230 this season -- and that includes missing a game due to injury and being limited in another. And at age 28, he still should have some good seasons left before the inevitable process of time starts to wear Johnson down.
While Johnson's physical gifts are apparent and his production is essentially unmatched -- although Bryant has come close -- what makes Johnson the best in the game is how he affects opposing defenses.
Whether opponents will admit it, when they face the Lions, their game plans alter because of Johnson. Leaving him in single coverage is almost unfathomable, because he and quarterback Matthew Stafford have enough familiarity with each other that Stafford finds Johnson even when he is covered by two defenders.
One defender? Johnson might have double digit catches.
His mere presence on the field opens up Detroit's offense for everyone else on the field, allowing Reggie Bush to have room to run or space on short throws. It also gives the Lions' other receivers almost guaranteed single coverage to make plays.
Despite all the attention, Johnson still makes plays every game, almost guaranteed. So best in the game? Bryant may get there one day. Right now? It's Johnson and it's not even a question.
103.3 FM ESPN PODCASTS
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett comments on his relationship with Tony Romo, up-tempo offenses, Dallas' play-calling responsibilities, DeMarco Murray's status and more.