The San Francisco 49ers made several trades over the course of the 2014 NFL Draft, but their most notable had to be the trade for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson. This adds a serious weapon to the 49ers passing game. Given the 49ers emphasis at times on the run, it will be interesting to see what this does to the passing game heading into 2014.
Earlier today, the 49ers announced that Johnson passed his physical. With that in mind, it's time to start taking a deeper dive into the 49ers new weapon. We started our Stevie discussion by looking at the salary cap implications. We'll have plenty more details on what Johnson brings to the table, but I figured the best place to start is talking with a Bills blogger. Brian Galliford from Buffalo Rumblings provided some insight into the talented wide receiver. Thanks Brian.
Stevie Johnson did a thing with the Bills that 2014 Hall of Fame electee Andre Reed never did: he surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in three straight seasons. Reed played with Jim Kelly. Stevie played with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Don't let anyone tell you that Johnson isn't a starting NFL receiver. He absolutely is.
It's just tough to foresee his ceiling being much higher than that. He sort of plateaued at the 1,000-1,100 yards, 5-7 touchdowns per season area in Buffalo. (His 2013 statistical regression had a lot to do with three basically rookie quarterbacks running the offense, and then his mother passed away late in the season.) Better quarterback play might take him beyond that plateau; he'll only turn 28 right before camp this season, so he's still right in his prime.
Johnson's strength is as a possession receiver, but he plays with a finesse style. He is not the type of receiver to seek contact, or to run guys over, or to separate based on his size, because he isn't the fastest dude in the world, and has a unique route-running style. He's compared most often to a basketball player in the ways he gets open; it's tremendously difficult to describe (though I've certainly tried), and I'd encourage 49ers fans to go back and watch some game tape from the 2011 and 2012 seasons to see the man work. Even without top-notch physical gifts, he can make defensive backs look silly.
That unique way in which he runs routes makes him very difficult to prepare for, which is why he gained a reputation for doing well-above-average work against some of the league's best cornerbacks, including Darrelle Revis and, much to your delight I'm sure, Richard Sherman. Separating is not an issue at all. He lacks deep speed, however, and is more quick than fast, so he was at his most effective on shorter and underneath stuff. He did a lot of damage out of the slot, but his route-running is so good that he can also play outside without noticeable drop-off.
There were a lot of Bills fans that grew weary of Johnson's unique personality. He burst onto the scene in 2010 with the "Why So Serious?" game against Cincinnati (then featuring T.O. and Ocho Cinco), and then drew a handful of personal foul penalties over the next two years with things like the Plaxico Burress self-inflicted gunfire miming and other end zone celebrations. (This one is my personal favorite.) That led to his being mischaracterized as a me-first, prima donna type, but he really isn't; he's just the type to wear his emotions on his sleeve a little bit, and he's the creative type, so that emerges a bit in his celebrations. But mostly, he's a class act, family-first guy that goes about his business professionally. I have a feeling 49ers fans are going to love him.
Johnson was one of my very favorite players, and it's tough to see him go.