San Francisco 49ers General Manager, Trent Baalke, is known for his draft day savvy. So far, so good in the 2014 NFL Draft. The 49ers did not trade up in the first-round on day one, nor did they select a wide receiver like some of us thought, but they did manage a rather bold move to secure a much needed wide receiver on day two.
The San Francisco 49ers traded a conditional fouth-round pick in 2015 for Buffalo Bills wide receiever, and San Francisco native, Stevie Johnson. Johnson was born in San Francisco and grew up in Fairfield where he earned All-State and All-Conference honors in football. Stevie also played basketball in high school. Johnson attended Chabot College in Hayward, CA before ultimately transferring to the University of Kentucky. Stevie Johnson was selected in the seventh-round (224th overall) by the Buffalo Bills in 2008. He has been a very productive receiver on some below-average Buffalo Bills teams.
Johnson will be able to step in and fill a need at the slot receiver position for the 49ers. Last year the 49ers passing offense ranked 30th overall in the NFL which resulted in a less-than-stellar year for quarterback Colin Kaepernick. If the 49ers receiving core can remain healthy from now until opening day on September 7 in Dallas, it will feel like a pick-up game at the park for Kaepernick going forward. Kaepernick has been asked to do a lot, and most of it has been on his own. How nice will it be for Kap to walk to the line of scrimmage and have a number of receiving options? Options that just weren’t there last year. While ground and pound has been the bread and butter of the Harbaugh offensive scheme, 49er championship teams of the past have been able to dominate the air with a prolific passing game. We know Kaepernick has the skill set to be a force on offense throwing the ball, but he hasn’t had the weapons … until now. You have to believe Trent Baalke is feeling better about paying his starting QB like a franchise QB now.
Stevie Johnson brings good size at 6’2, 207 pounds and is also a solid route runner with agility and quickness. Johnson, despite missing 4 games, still had a rather under-productive 2013 (only 52 receptions 597 receiving yards and 3 TDs). Johnson previously racked up three-straight,1,000 yard seasons in a Bills offense that has been rather bad on offense these past few years.
As with most high-profile wide receivers, Stevie Johnson has a very eccentric personality. His, at-times boisterous, personality has been fined several times by the NFL for over-the-top touchdown celebrations. The 49ers have seen this before with Terrell Owens, and it was that personality-type which ultimately drove Terrell Owens out of San Francisco and various other stops during his NFL career. Johnson has also had some poor performances and questionable dropped catches, but his effort has always been there.
Stevie Johnson also comes with a lot of future potential as well. Johnson has never been on a winning team in Buffalo and making this transition to a title contender has to be a welcome in Stevie’s still young career. The chance to play with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, who some analysts would compare him to, will be an advantage for a player with Johnson’s skill set.
Along with the skill set comes a guaranteed contract until 2016. Johnson will make roughly $3.92 million in 2014, all which will count against the 49ers cap, and eat up most of what is left of the cap. However when you think about Michael Crabtree entering the final year of his rookie contract, and Anquan Boldin, who is 33 years old, it makes sense for the immediate future. There has been concern for the 49ers of locking down a future wide receiver through the draft, however, Johnson may have just answered that problem for the 49ers without the question marks of a draftee receiver.
I think the biggest upside with Stevie is his ability to breakdown and beat the best cornerbacks in the NFL, players like Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis. During the 2012 season, while with the Bills, Johnson racked up 8 receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown in his best performance of the season against the Seattle Seahawks. The Bills lost 50-17 but Richard Sherman was the player Johnson beat with exceptional route running and quickness. The touchdown Johnson scored was against Sherman, whom he beat with great deception and breakaway ability at the line of scrimmage. Sherman prides himself in disrupting receivers routes, but Johnson has shown the ability to beat him one-on-one, and does it well. The 49ers could certainly use some of Johnson’s athleticisim in their two match-ups against Seattle each year.
Overall there is more positive than negative with this trade. Johnson doesn’t have to be the number one receiver, he can line up in the slot and be used in redzone situations, another area the 49ers will need to improve in 2014. Johnson provides a short-term solution at the receiver position with a guaranteed contract and barring any injury he should provide quality and production at the receiver position. The trade also allows the 49ers flexibility to move picks, which they have done a lot so far in this draft and also draft postional needs, which they have done quite nicely. Best of all, Johnson makes the 49ers a more dynamic offense for a relatively cheap cost.
In my last article I wrote how the 49ers needed to use the draft to add weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and thus far they have done that, only in ways I didn’t quite expect. The beauty of the NFL Draft when Trent Baalke is working his draft magic.