"I think we're going to do it a little bit differently than we have in the past," Stafford said in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio on Tuesday. "We used to feature Calvin, and everybody kind of got theirs after that. I think it's going to be tougher for defenses, in a certain way, that they don't know who we're going to. There's no guy to key in on. We're probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, and a bunch of guys will get a ton of catches, and we'll be all right."
Stafford, who went on to say that Johnson was a "once-in-a-lifetime type player," argued that Golden Tate had a great offseason and that Marvin Jones, a free agent acquired at the top of the market from Cincinnati, is also a valuable stand-in. The team is looking at Jeremy Kerley or T.J. Jones for the slot receiver job and are also hoping that former top-10 pick Eric Ebron grows into the pass-gobbling tight end they projected him as.
While this is fair, and Detroit boasts a stable of adequate pass-catching running backs, there aren't many examples of a Hall of Fame player departing and opening up the offense. The 2000 Dallas Cowboys were no better without Michael Irvin just like the 2001 49ers suffered without Jerry Rice -- in fact, in 2001, the year after Rice left for the Oakland Raiders, Terrell Owens' catch and yardage numbers dropped slightly. Rice essentially left a 75-catch hole in the middle of San Francisco's lineup.
This is the caliber of player we're talking about here with Johnson, who, when not the primary receiver, was an expert pawn who coordinators could use to take multiple defenders out of the equation.
If nothing else, Detroit did the next best thing with a serious infusion of speed into its offense. Marvin Jones was open enough to earn 103 targets during his final season with the Bengals and undoubtedly aided the continued ascension of A.J. Green. The platoon of Kerley, T.J. Jones, Andre Caldwell and Andre Roberts should at least be formidable out of the slot.
Every quarterback wants to believe what Stafford believes after losing a player like Johnson, and no quarterback ever wants to see their top target go.