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Cotton Bowl 2014: DGB draws just about the best comparison you could hope to see

Oklahoma State's defensive coordinator compared Dorial Green-Beckham to former Georgia Tech star, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson. How viable is the comparison at this stage in his career?

Bill Carter

Post-Dispatch: Oklahoma State braces for DGB

Spencer talked at length about the challenges of facing Missouri’s offense, particularly the passing game and Green-Beckham. The Cowboys counter with All-American cornerback Justin Gilbert, one of the country’s biggest playmaking defensive backs.

A reporter asked Spencer how much he’ll assign Gilbert to cover Green-Beckham in single coverage. He paused and smiled. "We’ll see," he said.

"You’ve got to some," Spencer added. "You can’t too much away from what you do. But I’m not an idiot. You can’t leave (Gilbert) alone all the time. You’ve got to give him relief some times. You’ve got to pick and choose the right times. We’ve done that all year. It’s not like he’s played man coverage all year long."

Spencer insisted he’ll keep Gilbert in the same spot all night and won’t shift him around to cover Green-Beckham. Otherwise, the Cowboys haven’t had an easy time preparing for the 6-6 sophomore in practice.

The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Missouri Cotton Bowl Notes: DGB a Megatron in training?

Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer coached at Georgia Tech in the early 2000s and helped recruit a certain 6-foot-5, 236-pound beast of a wide receiver to the Yellow Jackets.

His name is Calvin Johnson. You may know him as "Megatron."

When Spencer looks at Missouri's 6-foot-6, 225-pound sophomore wideout Dorial Green-Beckham, he sees a lot of the same traits.

"He’s got a unique skill level," Spencer said. "He’s got the size to body you up. He’s got the speed vertically to go over top of you. He’s got the ball skills where the ball doesn’t have to be perfect and he can make the catch. He’s just kind of the complete guy.

"If you want to draw one up, that’s what you want to draw one up to look like and play like. And he can finish. There’s a lot of guys that have all that and can’t finish."

Because of Glenn Spencer's ties to Georgia Tech, and because of their awfully similar size and speed, we've seen a bit of a "Dorial Green-Beckham as Calvin Johnson" narrative developing in recent days. First of all, that's awesome. "We're going to compare a Missouri receiver to the best receiver in football, and not in any sort of mocking way." Second ... how solid a comparison is this?

To get a read on this, we're of course going to dive into the stats. It's what we do. Let's start by looking at target data for both DGB in 2012-13 and Johnson in 2004-05, his freshman and sophomore seasons. We'll add context afterward.

Player (Year) Tgts Catches Catch Rt. Yards
QB Top 4 other receivers
Calvin Johnson (2004) 98 48 49% 837 17.4 8.5 Reggie Ball 85 catches, 1,055 yards, 7 TD
Calvin Johnson (2005) 132 54 41% 888 16.4 6.7 Reggie Ball 90 catches, 1,045 yards, 5 TD
Dorial Green-Beckham (2012) 43 27 63% 386 14.3 9.0 James Franklin/
Corbin Berkstresser
144 catches, 1,617 yards, 6 TD
Dorial Green-Beckham (2013) 86 55 64% 830 15.1 9.7 James Franklin/
Maty Mauk
146 catches, 2,070 yards, 14 TD

Some caveats:

1. DGB obviously has one game left in 2013.

2. Calvin Johnson was stuck playing his entire career with Reggie Ball at quarterback. Ball's stats from 2004-05: 49% completion rate, 27 touchdowns, 30 interceptions. (Then again, that's basically what Corbin Berkstresser produced last year.)

3. Johnson's supporting cast was not nearly as helpful and/or productive as DGB's. Johnson was the only viable target on that 2005 offense, and it showed. In his first four games of 2005, he caught just 18 of 47 passes, a 38% catch rate. (Granted, those 18 catches went for 378 yards...)

Different style of offense, different caliber of receiving corps and quarterback, different target rates. Johnson was counted on too heavily and didn't produce at a high per-target level, especially in 2005. Meanwhile, DGB was complemented by L'Damian Washington, Marcus Lucas, and Jimbud Sassunt (Jimmie Hunt + Bud Sasser) and produced high-caliber per-target stats, especially late in the year.

Oh yeah, and...

Player (Year) Tgts Catches Catch Rt. Yards
QB Top 4 other receivers
Calvin Johnson (2006) 138 76 55% 1,202 15.8 8.7 Reggie Ball 67 catches, 920 yards, 9 TD

Georgia Tech went all-in on explosiveness over efficiency in 2006; Ball completed just 44 percent of his passes for the season, but at over 13 yards per completion. He still bombed a ton of balls over Johnson's head, but Johnson's per-target averages improved by 16% over his first two years. If the same thing happens to DGB in 2014, and he improves his per-target averages to the 10.9 range ... well, with the level of hype he is already receiving, he'll be in the Biletnikoff conversation. (For comparison, Danario Alexander averaged 11.2 in 2009. That worked out pretty well.)

So basically, it's almost impossible to compare the production of the two players because of the differences in context. Johnson was asked to do a lot more (too much, really) with a lesser supporting cast, but DGB's done more when asked.

But the best possible news is this: You cannot really say DGB's development is behind Johnson's two years into his college career. The bar gets raised pretty considerably next year (and very considerably, almost unattainably, after that), but you cannot say there's no chance DGB meets the challenge.