When the San Francisco 49ers acquired WR Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a conditional 2015 fourth-round draft pick, many Forever Faithful were ecstatic by the move. A team desperate to find that deep threat between the 20’s, can Johnson be the answer? That question remains to be seen. However, with Johnson now in the mix, that all but assures the 49ers of having three capable wide receivers winning their battles one-on-one. But again what type of presence will Johnson bring to the 49ers offense, especially with OC Greg Roman favoring 22 personel (two running backs/two tight-ends) as opposed to 13 personnel? Those are questions that will need to be answered once training camp begins, but one thing is for sure, Johnson adds tremendous value in more ways than one.
For starters, Johnson has the resume to be a viable No. 2 option. In three of his last four seasons, Johnson has been a consistent 1,000 yard receiver as he racked up 1,073, 1,004, and 1,046 receiving yards from 2010-2012. But with a modest 12.7 career average can he be the burner the 49ers have been seeking? I doubt it. Instead, look for the 49ers to play him in the slot while playing to his strengths. A possession receiver that gave the Seattle Seahawks fits in 2012, as Johnson had 8 catches for 115 receiving yards and one touchdown, look for that to continue as opposing secondaries do not have enough fire power to match-up man-for-man. In addition to Johnson’s ability to win battles one-on-one, look for him to create space for his new teammates.
Johnson’s presence alone will allow WR Michael Crabtree, WR Anquan Boldin, and TE Vernon Davis more opportunities to make plays. Last year opposing defenses would simply use an aggressive press man-to-man on Boldin while daring QB Colin Kaepernick to beat them with his arm. A plan that worked early on as Crabtree recovered from a torn Achilles, Boldin was seemingly double-teamed while Davis was locked up on post/seam routes. That left little for Kaepernick to work with as WR Kyle Williams and WR Mario Manningham did little to help the cause. Not anymore. With Johnson now in the fold, no longer can teams simply tailor their game-plans to that ideology as Johnson will make them pay dearly for it.
While Johnson can create space while beating man-to-man coverage, it’s his run after the catch that will prove to be his biggest asset. How many times have you seen Johnson turn a seven-yard out-route or a 10-yard hitch into a 20-plus yard gain? A lot. And with Johnson having the courage to go across the middle that only increases his value as his explosive playmaking ability will do wonders for the 49ers offense in 2014.
With Johnson all but assured the No. 3 wide receiver position for the upcoming season, look for him to put up respectable numbers as he should take some targets away from Boldin and Crabtree, as I predict him to have around 40 catches for 520 receiving yards and five touchdowns.