Calvin Johnson is dealing with an ankle injury that held him to only 12 yards receiving in week 4 against the New York Jets.
Before we get into The Science on this one, I think its important to give you some insight to how you can look at these players and make skilled predictions. Calvin Johnson a.k.a. Megatron is a very good case to start with, but I will use my second favorite sport-boxing to really highlight one of the ways I assess or predict a player’s performance after injury.
No matter who you are, unless you live under a rock, you have been hearing about or talking about these two for years -Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. What I generally ask myself about an athlete is-“Is he Floyd or is he Manny”. In other words is he Supremely skilled or Freaky talented or BOTH? I consider Manny to be Freaky talented (or at least he used to be). Manny beat opponents with blinding speed, reflexes, and knockout power. Floyd on the other hand, I consider to be Supremely skilled as he continues to outsmart, outbox, and beat most by easy decision.
How does this matter for Megatron?
It is my theory that athletes who fall into this Freaky talented column do not withstand injury or anything else that inhibits or degrades their talent. As I wrote about Vernon Davis recently, The Freaky Talented athletes fall off very quickly. Pacquiao is the current example of this as he begins to fail to get knockouts, has been knockout himself, and overall is putting out poor performances. If we look at history, boxing shows us this theory very clearly. Roy Jones was one of the most Freaky talented boxers of all time, BUT with very little attention to keeping his guard up, executing a defensive strategy, and even developing a jab; we see how it ended-with his head bouncing off the canvas. The greatest example of Freaky Talent hitting a brick wall is Mike Tyson. Iron Mike, likely was the hardest hitting heavyweight of our time; however when that talent tank dropped off just a little bit he was unable to compete at all.
On the other hand, athletes who depend on skill can absorb injuries, lose speed, lose strength, and all of the things that come with age; and continue to thrive. Once upon a time Floyd Mayweather knocked out his opponents in his biggest fights (i.e. Diego Corales, Ricky Hatton, and Arturo Gatti). At that point in his career, I believe his talent reserve was as full as his skill reserves. As his talent may have dropped in these recent years, we still don’t see losses on his record because at his core, he is Supremely skilled with defense, combinations, footwork, and strategy. Jerry Rice showed us similar characteristics as his career wound down. Despite a drop in speed and strength as he aged, he maintained a Supreme skill to run routes, get position, manipulate coverages and get in the end zone (check out Jerry Rice’s 17th and 18th season….it could rival most receivers in their prime http://www.nfl.com/player/jerryrice/2502642/careerstats)
In my opinion, Calvin Johnson falls into the Freaky talented pool. At 6’5″, 236 lbs; running a 4.3-40 yard dash, jumping out of the arena, and man handling all who oppose him I believe that more of his success comes from his talent rather than his skill (I am not saying he has no skill, just not Supremely skilled). With that said, injuries and age are much greater threats to Megatron as compared to some of the other wide receiver greats like Jerry Rice or Chris Carter.
The injury report simply calls Johnson’s injury and ankle sprain which he suffered in week 3 vs. the Green Bay Packers. While it doesn’t say what type, Im sure those who follow can figure it out. With Johnson back on the field a week later, it is safe to say he doesn’t have the more serious high ankle sprain which can take up to 6 weeks or longer to return. It is also not likely he has an eversion sprain which also would have likely kept him out in week 4. The only ankle sprain that puts him back on the field a week later is one that most of us have probably experienced-an Inversion Sprain. This is the most common ankle sprain as it accounts for about 80% of all sprains.
The image shows you what Calvin Johnson is likely dealing with and in most case the Anterior talofibular ligament is the structure that is injured. As many of us know, a sprained ankle comes with pain and swelling but as long as there is not significant tearing of any of those ligaments, most can resume activity in 1-3 weeks. Again, with the NFL these players and medical staff should always be on the short end of these ranges.
While Calvin Johnson is likely receiving the most advanced treatment options, a simple way to manage a common inversion ankle sprain is the R-I-C-E protocol-Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This protocol will work for you or Megatron:
Rest-get off of that leg. The more weight put on the ankle the more stress to the injured ligament. Beyond that when you stand, gravity helps the fluid stay in your ankle/foot area causing more swelling and pain.
Ice-Ice that ankle down as much as possible in 15 minute increments. This helps the swelling go down and controls the inflammation.
Compression-wrap that ankle to help push the fluid out which will allow resumption of mobility. Ace wraps, compression stocking, or other compression garments can be used.
Elevation-elevate that ankle/foot about your heart. Many mistakenly put their foot up on a stool while sitting; the key is to lay down and elevate above your heart. In this setup we use gravity to help us drain some of the swelling back to our systemic circulation
What You Need To Know
For all you that spent your first pick on Megatron, don’t worry. He will continue to play this year and likely be nearly as productive as past years. I say this because his ankle should not affect his game as much as it would a receiver like Randall Cobb, Demaryius Thomas, or Reggie Wayne. Megatron is rarely a big wide receiver screen option like Thomas or Cobb who must be able to make cuts and accelerate quickly; and he does not rely on his route running like the veteran-Wayne. Megatron can still trot down the field (his 4.3-40 may be a 4.6 for a couple of weeks), put his big body on a defender, and catch long passes as well as touchdowns.
However, I do see Calvin Johnson fading back toward the pack very soon (I would start dropping him one round per year for fantasy drafts i.e. next year he’s a 2nd rounder, 2016 a 3rd rounder). Even the best made sports car is not made to go 200 mph every time out, eventually the engine and other parts start to fail. I expect that knee and ankle injuries will begin to plague Megatron in the next year or 2 and force him to rely more on skill. I believe if Johnson works on his skill set more as he ages, he has the potential to look like his name mate-Andre Johnson in a few years. But, if he does not we may have to take that nick name in a few years. Andre Johnson is pretty close to Megatron’s physical status minus a couple of inches and a few pounds, but he appears to be relying on his skill tank a little more than Megatron and therefore still thriving late in his career.