The 2011 draft was the 9th consecutive season that San Francisco drafted a wide receiver; one of the longest running streaks in the NFL. In fact, only twice since 1993 have the 49ers not gone in that position during the draft. Well, this shows that they are not too successful when it comes to drafting contributing players at that position.
You probably are looking at only Terrell Owens and John Taylor as major draft day wide receiver contributers since 1986. Of course, Brandon Lloyd has been a major success in Denver, but he wasn't here in San Francisco. Michael Crabtree has not panned out, so that pick is still up for discussion.
In 2011, the 49ers went with a player, Ronald Johnson, who didn't have the flashiest numbers in college. Instead, he did what was asked of him, wasn't afraid to go up the middle, got behind the defense because of his speed, and was extremely solid on Special Teams.
I don't think that Johnson will ever be a true #1 wide receiver in the NFL, but the 49ers got great value in the 6th round with this pick. After the jump, I will take a look at this selection, compare scouting reports and give you an idea of what to expect from the former USC star moving forward.
Positives: Good speed, can get behind the defense... Solid hands, reliable player who was looked to a lot in big situations... Quick off the line of scrimmage, puts a lot of pressure on cornerbacks... Good after the catch, tough to catch when he's in the open field, a slick runner... Strong character, known as a hard worker and a gym rat... Has experience returning both kickoffs and punts... Will be a good possession receiver out of the slot as a number two or three option in the NFL.
Negatives: Small frame, appears weak and gets overpowered by larger defenders... Lacks good acceleration on cuts, can't separate from quicker cornerbacks... Has small hands... Slows down going into his breaks... Not a great run blocker, doesn't have the strength to push his man backwards... Poor leaping ability, not good at pinpointing the ball in the air... Suffered a broken collarbone in 2009... USC receivers have been very hit or miss in recent years... Tools are there, but still raw and needs to be coached up a bit.
The 49ers need a player that can extend the field. Michael Crabtree is more of a possession receiver at this point, as is Josh Morgan. Ted Ginn can extend the field, but he wasn't really able to contribute on offense last season. There is an issue when your TE, Vernon Davis, is the only player on the offensive side that extends the field and gets behind defenses.
In drafting Ronald Johnson, the 49ers were able to acquire a player that has speed and is able to get behind the defense. For some reason, Matt Barkeley didn't extend the field on Johnson's side. However, that could have a lot to do with USC's more conservative offensive approach in 2010.
I noticed that Johnson doesn't only have the ability to get behind the defense, he has extremely solid hands. I never saw him allow the ball to hit his body, instead Johnson always has his hands out in front of himself; that is extremely rare of a college level player. In fact, I notice Julio Jones, who went 6th overall, do that more often than Johnson.
Johnson is going to have problems against larger corners who like to play bump and run. He can be held up at the line, which sets off issues in terms of continuity on plays. More often than not, I noticed the entire scheme of a play break down because of this last season. This is something that he is going to have to fix moving forward. This could be fixed by adding weight to his frame, or by some solid coaching by John Morton.
I am sure the 49ers weren't happy when Aldrick Robinson and Dwayne Harris went before their 6th round selection. Both would have been great fits for the 49ers. That said, they got a polished player in Ronald Johnson who played against top level competition in college at USC. Moving forward, I expect them to utilize his physical ability, even as a rookie in the slot.
Ronald Johnson makes plays. He is a tremendous athlete, yet raw enough in some areas to develop. His quickness and elusiveness are 2 of his many qualities, as he always found himself behind defenders and found open field. His offense relied on him for big plays and he always came through. As tough as he is speedy, he has no problem going over the middle and absorbing hits. The return game is where his value rises.
Excellent speed. His 40 time is not a real indication to his explosiveness, as seen in the return game, where he attacks holes and gets up field quickly. Johnson is more quick than fast, but will pull away from defenders. He is a very efficient runner; using perfect running form to make his speed look effortless. In time, with his tools, he will run a faster 40 yard dash.
He contributed heavily to a USC offense that averaged over 400 yards per game, while personally ranking 2nd in the Pac-10 in punt return average. He has had an 90 yard punt return for touchdown, along with 20 career receiving TDs. Yet, he was still underused, especially in the vertical game. Johnson's USC numbers are not an indication of skill and/or potential.
I think it was important for them to note that Johnson's USC production are not an indication of his skill. Much like Taylor Mays on the defensive side the year earlier, USC's coaching staff did not utilize Ronald Johnson in the best way in 2011. Instead, they focused on short/intermediate routes, when in fact a more vertical passing game would have helped the offense.
If defenses do not watch, Ronald Johnson will blow past the secondary coverage and get in the open field; it is just up to Alex Smith (or any other QB), to find him in that field. I envision Johnson playing out of the slot, which means he will be going up against opposing nickel backs. Usually, these type of defenders are not the fastest on the team; hence the fact that they are playing nickel, not on the outside. I really believe he can be productive in this role immediately.
Synopsis: Adding Ronald Johnson to the roster means that San Francisco may part ways with Ted Ginn. In my opinion that would be a huge mistake. Ginn was extremely solid in the return game. I do understand that Kyle WIlliams, Phillip Adams, Chris Culliver, Ronald Johnson and Kendall Hunter can be utilized in the return game. However, Ginn has experience and success at this level.
That said, Ronald Johnson could easily spell Ginn in the return game, and actually jump ahead of him on the receiver depth chart. Best case scenario in regards to the 49ers receiver rotation would be as follows.
1. Michael Crabtee
2. Josh Morgan
3. Dominique Zeigler
4. Ronald Johnson
5. Kyle Williams
6. Ted Ginn Jr
This would enable Johnson to play out of the slot, where he will be most productive. Additionally, it would afford the 49ers the ability to get their best route runner, Dominique Zeigler, on the field more often. I see a lot more upside in Zeigler, Johnson and Williams than I do in Josh Morgan, so that is another factor to look at moving forward.