Every year, there’s a number of players that see their own talent wasted on terrible rosters with little hope for the future.
No two players have seen their great talent wasted more than receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Those two receivers are likely the best players in the league at their position, but both players are also stuck on chronically underachieving teams. So, which player is being completely wasted?
To answer that question, we have to establish just what exactly constitutes wasted talent. For our purposes, we’ll discuss the question based around the overall success of the teams Fitzgerald and Johnson belong with.
Calvin Johnson has accounted for 1,500 yards for two straight seasons, and with just eight more yards, he’ll be able to push that streak to three years in a row. In that time period, the Lions have gone just 21-26, making one playoff appearance, and in that postseason run, the Lions were eliminated in the first round.
Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t been nearly as prolific. Fitzgerald has never topped 1,500 yards in his career, and he hasn’t topped 1,000 yards receiving since 2011. On the other hand, the Cardinals have seen some level of success in Fitzgerald’s career. Following the 2008 season, the Cardinals ran through the playoff before losing Super Bowl XLIII to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following year, the Cardinals won in the wildcard round of the playoffs before losing to the Saints in the divisional round.
In addition to the Cardinals’ somewhat recent success, Arizona is still in the playoff race, although they need a little bit of help to make it into the postseason. The Lions were eliminated on Sunday after losing to the New York Giants in overtime.
The Cardinals have a definitive direction moving forward, even if they do fail to make it into the playoffs. With Bruce Arians leading the team and Carson Palmer reestablishing his NFL career, the Cardinals know where they stand moving towards 2014. After a slow start, the Cardinals have transformed themselves into one of the league’s hottest teams.
The Lions, by contrast, have little direction moving forward. Jim Schwartz is likely out as the team’s head coach, Matthew Stafford has regressed from the status of franchise passer to that of being ineffective, and the team lacks discipline. The Lions won’t be able to start moving forward until the future of Jim Schwartz is decided and a new head coach is named.
To this point, it’s been clear that Larry Fitzgerald’s talent hasn’t been as wasted in Arizona as Johnson’s talent has been in Detroit. There is, however, one redeeming factor for Johnson. At 28 years of age, Calvin Johnson is two years younger than Larry Fitzgerald, and if the Lions can either develop Stafford back into a franchise passer or find a new quarterback, he has the potential to lead the Lions into the playoffs.
So, who’s seen his talent wasted more, Larry Fitzgerald or Calvin Johnson? Really, there’s little competition. Larry Fitzgerald isn’t attaining his full potential in the Cardinals’ offense, but Calvin Johnson’s talent is being wasted by the Lions much in the same way Barry Sanders’ talent was wasted by the team in the 90’s. Johnson is undoubtedly the best receiver in the NFL, but with an underachieving roster around him, it’s unclear if Johnson will ever see the playoffs while he’s with the Lions. Larry Fitzgerald, at least, has some hope for the future with the Cardinals.