WRs Jennings, Johnson Set To Cap Strong Years


It's not a label anyone wants. Sort of like the "best golfer never to win a major."

But on Sunday at Lambeau Field, probably the two best receivers who aren't going to the Pro Bowl will be putting their tremendous skills on display for the last time in 2008.

Green Bay's Greg Jennings and Detroit's Calvin Johnson have put together dynamite seasons that, in terms of Pro Bowl recognition, weren't quite good enough in a year loaded with top receiving performances in the NFC.

Jennings and Johnson have enjoyed Pro Bowl-caliber years, no doubt, but to say they were snubbed would mean one or more of the four NFC selections - Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Carolina's Steve Smith and Atlanta's Roddy White - don't deserve to go. And that argument is tough to make.

White, Fitzgerald and Smith rank 1-2-3 in the NFC in receiving yards (1,334-1,301-1,287), with Fitzgerald first in receptions (91), while Boldin leads in touchdown catches (11).

But that shouldn't take anything away from what Jennings and Johnson have accomplished as by far the top two receivers in their own division, the NFC North. They rank right behind those top three yardage leaders in the conference at fourth and fifth, with Johnson posting 1,229 yards and Jennings 1,191. And their touchdowns aren't far behind the leader, either, with Johnson at 10 and Jennings nine.

What perhaps stands out even more about the pair is their ability to consistently make the big play.


--They both rank in the top three in the NFL in receptions of 20-plus yards this season. Johnson has 20, tied for the top spot with Smith, while Jennings is right behind with 19.

--They're in a three-way tie for first in the league in catches of 40-plus, with seven apiece, matching the total of San Diego's Vincent Jackson.

--They both rank in the top five in the league in average yards per catch among players with at least 53 receptions. Johnson's 17.8-yard average is behind only Jackson (18.4), while Jennings' average of 15.9 ranks fifth.

Interestingly, though, the two have developed that big-play ability with rather different physical attributes.

Jennings, a second-round draft choice in 2006, is a modest 5-foot-11 and 198 pounds, yet his breakaway speed has always been deceptive and he has a knack for timing his jumps on deep balls that makes him very tough to defend.

"He's a good technician, so he knows how to use his body to create space for himself and create space from the defender in relation to where the ball comes down, shielding the defender," Packers receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "For a guy that has adequate size but is not what you would consider big, he does a real good job with his body."

Meanwhile Johnson is the prototypical physical beast at the position. At 6-5 and 239 pounds with long strides and big-time leaping ability, Johnson was a coveted prospect as the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2007 and hasn't disappointed.

"He's probably bigger, faster, stronger than most receivers in the league, and probably bigger than all the DBs he faces, so he's got a big advantage, and in addition to the size he's got great speed," Robinson said. "He's got all the tools and he's a guy you would think over the course of time would become almost unstoppable because of his size-speed ratio."

{sportsad300}Even more impressive this year with Johnson is he has maintained a high level of productivity since the Lions traded fellow top wideout Roy Williams to Dallas. Since Williams' departure in mid-October, Johnson has been the sole focal point of every team's game plan for pass defense, yet he's scored seven of his 10 touchdowns and posted four of his top six yardage games without Williams lined up on the other side.

"In my opinion at least he's one of the top five players in this league," Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said. "The only thing I feel bad for is he didn't get on many national television games where everybody had a chance to watch this guy. When we lost Roy, it's been all him, and he's gone out and just made some unbelievable catches."

If Jennings and Johnson perform anywhere near the level they did when the Packers and Lions met back in Week 2, the fans at Lambeau Field are in for a pretty good show.

Back on Sept. 14 at Ford Field, Jennings had six catches for a career-high 167 yards, including a 62-yard bomb early in the second quarter to set up a touchdown, and a 60-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter that led to the go-ahead field goal.

On the other side, Johnson caught six passes for 129 yards, burning the Green Bay secondary for touchdowns of 38 and 47 yards during Detroit's fourth-quarter comeback.

Perhaps Sunday's rematch will decide who's the best receiver not going to the Pro Bowl.

Not that anyone wants to be called that.

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