Calvin Johnson might be the best jump-ball receiver in NFL history. Last night, the Detroit Lions wide receiver provided more evidence for that argument with a spectacular leaping touchdown grab over Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
Although Megatron’s physical attributes certainly helped him make the play, his technique also played an important role.
Let’s break this down.
First, check out how the defense was lined up when the ball was snapped. There’s one high safety in the middle of the field, and Sam Shields is in press coverage overtop Johnson. I’m not sure if the original play called for Johnson to run a streak or if QB Matt Stafford and Johnson have an on-the-fly audible that calls for a streak versus man coverage in this part of the field, but this is exactly the type of look that Johnson can exploit downfield.
It’s pretty obvious that Stafford knew where he was going with the ball before he even received the snap. Just a couple yards into Johnson’s route, Stafford is already starting to arc the ball into the end zone. Johnson takes an outside release, which is precisely what you want to do on a jump-ball. It forces Shields to turn his back to the quarterback but allows Johnson to easily track the path of the ball.
Notice how Johnson is just a couple of yards wider than he was when he initially lined up. On an NFL field, the distance from the bottom of the numbers to the sideline is 12 yards, and Johnson lined up a good 2-3 yards below the numbers. That means he only had about 10 yards of horizontal wiggle room to work with.
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On vertical routes like this, where a player takes an outside release, it’s easy for him to drift toward the sideline and let the cornerback push him in that direction. Johnson knows he needs to leave himself room to stay in bounds, so he focuses on getting straight downfield and not drifting toward the sideline. Shields does a great job in coverage—he’s right on Johnson’s inside hip, which is exactly where a cornerback wants to be.
Johnson now begins to turn his torso toward the ball, which allows him to establish eye contact with it and puts him in a good position to rip the ball away from Shields. If Johnson had tried to make a typical over-the-shoulder catch, Shields would likely break up the pass before it could reach his hands.
Now all that’s left to do is jump up, fight off Shields, snag the ball and get both feet inbounds. Obviously, that’s easier said than done. Johnson does a tremendous job of high-pointing the ball and going up to grab it.
His technique was flawless, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but Megatron making this catch.
At 6-foot-5 and 237-pounds, Johnson can outmuscle and out-jump the 5-foot-11, 184-pound Shields. He used his incredible 6-foot-10 wingspan (just one inch shorter than Blake Griffin’s) to snatch the ball above Shields’s outstretched arm and keep it away from him. His massive mitts allow him to grip the ball with one hand while simultaneously dragging his left foot in the end zone. Had Johnson drifted toward the sideline an inch or two more when he ran his route, he wouldn’t have been able to get both feet down.
When an incredible physical specimen like Calvin Johnson also has impeccable technique, he’s virtually impossible to stop. Learn how to catch jump-balls like Megatron at the link below.
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