Editor's note: This story was originally published on Feb. 1, when ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson intended to retire. On March 8, Johnson made his retirement official.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Retire the notion that Calvin Johnson will end up being a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His nine-year career puts him on the fringe of Hall of Fame consideration, but more could be needed to make this a no-brainer on the first try.
This stunning news brings back memories of Detroit Lions great Barry Sanders. Sanders was a shoo-in for Canton, but his accomplishments are a bit beyond where Johnson is sitting. Sanders went to 10 Pro Bowls in 10 years and rushed for 15,269 yards, third-best all time. He was No. 2 at the time of his retirement, and could have reached No. 1 if he had kept playing.
Johnson, 30, is a seven-time Pro Bowler and made the most of his time in the league. Only Torry Holt and Jerry Rice caught more passes than Johnson in the first nine years of any receiver's career. Johnson had 11,619 career yards; for receivers younger than 31, only Randy Moss has more.
Johnson's tally of 46 100-yard games since 2007 is the most in the NFL. Among players who have played at least 100 games, Johnson has the best yards per game average (86.1).
In short, Megatron was a monster. In Hall of Fame voting, though, it's not only how you start, but also how you finish -- in seasons and in careers. Johnson's work could be considered unfinished for some.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson has the most receiving yards (11,619) and the most touchdown receptions (83) for any player in NFL history not to win a playoff game. Hall of Fame voters also have struggled for years with wide receivers. The game in the 1970s was geared toward running, not passing. As a result, receivers didn't put up the huge numbers, and it took decades to get the best receivers of the 1970s enshrined.
The passing numbers seen in the current era are staggering. Seven receivers caught more than 100 passes this season. It took Michael Irvin 12 years to catch 750 passes. Charlie Joiner caught 750 in 17 seasons. Johnson needed nine to get to 731, but some of the new, younger receivers such as Odell Beckham Jr., Antonio Brown and Julio Jones might be able to top 700-750 yards in eight. That's how the game is evolving.
Those numbers work against Johnson. Marvin Harrison passed through a couple of years of votes without success before getting elected to the Hall in February, and he has 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards. Henry Ellard (13,777 yards) and Holt (13,382) top Johnson, and they didn't make the list of 15 finalists for this year's Hall. Terrell Owens has the second-most yards in NFL history, yet he was not elected in February, his first appearance on the Hall ballot.
It won't help Johnson if Owens, Ellard and Holt don't get in sometime in the next five years. Johnson might have needed more time on the field to think Hall of Fame. A playoff win also would have helped.