The common training thread between The Two Best Wide Receivers of the past 10 years

(featured image from Stack.com)

The wide receiver position is in the spotlight with fantasy football now after taking down the running back position as the most important fantasy position, but what will they do with it.

With week one ending with at least three of the top 20 wide receivers being injured, will this position be able to hold its advantage over the running backs who were shunned due to poor reliability. While the wide receiver position holds a lower injury risk with contact injuries, it seems that the dynamic nature of the position may be neck and neck with running backs when it comes to non-contact injuries.

This made me look a little closer to find trends to these injuries. I initially went with my usual thought process which is valid but can be trumped. I typically believe that Freaky Talented players are at a higher risk for injuries as their bodies endure so much force from their above average size and/or speed. I thought I would find that the receivers were just getting so talented that injuries were increasing with that talent.

This hypothesis led me to the most recent, best wide receivers I could think of….

Calvin Johnson retired last year as the best wide receiver in the league. His production faded a little toward the end of his nine years, but I can win the argument that he was the best when he left.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Training Camp

The best argument to Johnson being the best when he left would have been the current best receiver in the league Antonio Brown. I am sure some of you will point to Julio Jones as an argument, but I will simply sit this link right here and in my most manly voice say “boy, bye!”

antonio

These two wide receivers are clearly the two best receivers of the last decade or so, but they are like night and day if you just glance at them. Calvin Johnson stands 6-foot and 5-inches tall and weighs in at 236 when he retired and Antonio Brown is a pedestrian 5-foot 10-inches and weighs in at 186 lbs.  Physically I could find no comparison to explain why both receivers who played nearly every play for their team were able to stay on the field and avoid injury.

At first glance I would have expected ligament and joint injury from Calvin Johnson, considering he moved that 236 lbs around faster than nearly every wide receiver in the league with a 4.35-40 yard dash time. Johnson was rumored to have bad knees but they couldn’t have been that bad as he only missed 9 games in 9 years and is scheduled to hit the “Dancing with the Stars” stage this season.

At first glance with Antonio Brown, I would have expected a DeSean Jackson type wide receiver who has missed 17 games in 8 seasons as his small frame appears to make him vulnerable to injury. Brown defies this logic as in six seasons, he has only missed three games due to injury.

In essence Calvin Johnson should have been getting beat up by his body and Antonio Brown should be getting beat up by other bodies.

This has not been the case, and it makes sense when you study each player closely. I have always been a proponent of functional training that incorporates balance and control. I value eccentric movements more than concentric movement, as eccentric usually protects from injury, while concentric many times causes injury. This is why I frown upon players who seem to only focus on becoming more explosive. Like many things in life, the best decision is to have balance be the goal.

The best way to avoid an injury is to be in control. Almost every non contact injury you can think of stems from losing control. If your body moves in a direction too far, something gets injured. If something moves too fast, something gets injured. Control is the key, and it seems that Johnson and Brown both understand this.

Both of these star wide receivers incorporate Pilates into their training, and I believe this is one of the primary reasons they enjoyed such healthy careers.

The three factors I like to look at first when I analyze a players injury profile is their weight, speed, and training regimen. Often times I get to the training part and see the same thing over and over. Players are focused on more speed, more strength and more explosion. I have nothing against these areas of focus when there is a need, but sometimes I feel like athletes are trying to put more water in a glass that is already full. This reminds me of the guy in the gym who only bench presses, despite the fact that his chest is huge, his max is 500 lbs, but his calves look like toothpicks. In this scenario, the explosive skill set that players are striving for represents the chest and the lack of control that some of these athletes have are the toothpick calves.

I hate to see a player coming back from injury show off these crazy fast twitch muscle fiber drills as a sign that they’re back. I usually want to jump through the screen and encourage them to meditate, do yoga, join a Pilates class, or focus on some eccentric contraction activity. 

I am glad to see that some of them get it, when it comes to how to train a body and skill set that has been blessed with talent. Sometimes talent just needs to be controlled.

If players like Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. follow in the footsteps of Calvin Johnson and Antonio Brown with training regimens that are conducive to preservation and progression in a balanced way, we all win by getting to watch their greatness for longer.