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O'HARA: Quality could top quantity in Calvin Johnson's HOF bid

The door to the Pro Football Hall of Fame has been opened in recent years for retired Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson and others who had short careers, and it could be pushed even wider this weekend if a recent pattern continues in voting for the Class of 2018.

The long and short of the trend: Longevity doesn't seem to count as much as it used to.

Two players who played only seven seasons – Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis and Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley – were inducted last year in the Class of 2017.

This year, momentum seems to be swinging in favor of voting for Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli, who played six full seasons in a seven-year career. Voting is Saturday in Minneapolis, site of Super Bowl LII.

Johnson could be another who takes a relatively short path to Canton, Ohio, when he comes up for voting after the 2020 season.

His acrobatic catches and the overpowering physical ability that lived up to the nickname "Megatron" might overshadow the receiving statistics that have him far down the career list by playing only nine seasons.

The bottom line for Johnson is that quality could top quantity.

As popular ESPN NFL reporter and Hall of Fame voter John Clayton put it: "Calvin has the look of a Hall of Fame player. Had he played longer, it would be an easier decision."

USA Today columnist Jarrett Bell, also a Hall of Fame voter, cautioned that there isn't necessarily a carryover in voting patterns from year to year.

"Obviously, it won't hurt Johnson that there are cases where some Hall of Fame voters, like Gale Sayers, got in despite having relatively short careers," Bell said via email. "Exceptions happen. But as a voter, I look at each case individually."

One man's opinion: As a former Hall of Fame voter, it's more likely that Johnson will have to wait to make the Hall than it is for him to be voted in on the first ballot. This year alone, receivers Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce are finalists whose career stats dwarf Johnson's.

On a historic basis, Sayers is the classic example of a great player making the Hall of Fame with a short career. Sayers played only 68 games in seven seasons for the Chicago Bears, from 1965-71.

But Sayers was such a spectacular runner and return specialist that it was a no-brainer for him to make the Hall of Fame. He made it on the first ballot, and was inducted in 1971.

Unlike Sayers, it was a long wait for Easley and Davis, as it has been with Boselli, who was forced to retire after the 2001 season.

As a Bronco from 1995-2001, Davis' first four seasons were among the best ever by a runner: 6,417 yards rushing and 54 touchdowns. For his full career he rushed for 7,607 yards and 60 touchdowns – far short of Hall of Fame standards.

Adding to Davis' credentials was a career-best 2,008-yard season and a rushing title in 1998, league and Super Bowl MVP Awards and three times an All-Pro.

View in-game photos of Darius Slay and T.J. Lang during the 2018 Pro Bowl.

Easley spent his seven seasons with the Seattle Seahawks from 1981-87. Like Davis, there was no question about his ability. He made All-Pro three times, played in five Pro Bowls, and led the NFL in interceptions in 1984 with 10.

He was voted into the Hall of Fame as a senior candidate. Davis made it as a regular modern-era candidate.

Johnson was a transcendent receiver who changed the way defenses played him because his size (6-5, 237 pounds) and freakish ability that allowed him to out-run and out-jump defenders to defeat double and triple teams.

From a statistical standpoint his highlight season was 2012, when he led the league with 122 catches and set the single-season record for receiving yards with 1,964. He also led the league in receiving yards in 2011 with 1,681 and in touchdowns with 12 in 2008.

For his career, he had 731 catches for 11,619 yards and 83 TDs.

He scored one rushing TD on a 32-yard run on an end around against the vaunted Tampa Bay Bucs defense in 2007. As then Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said at the time, Johnson ran through "about four Hall of Famers."

The way the voting trend is going, the chances are getting better that he'll be one of them.

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