How Stevie Johnson Fits in the San Francisco 49ers Offense
With an NFL high 12 picks in this year’s draft 49ers fans were understandably focused on Radio City Music Hall this weekend. Trent Baalke performed his usual draft day magic wheeling and dealing to pick up a host of potential impact players in the hope of getting the 49ers over the hump and finally securing the franchise’s 6th Lombardi Trophy. While Baalke’s draft day selections and trades were impressive his biggest move came Friday morning when he acquired wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Bills.
A San Francisco native Johnson finally gets his chance to come home after flirting with the 49ers during his free agency two seasons ago. With the 49ers needing a receiver the trade fills an obvious need and the price—both the conditional 3rd/4th round pick in 2015 sent to Buffalo and Johnson’s manageable contract—make it a steal given Johnson’s production over the past four seasons.
Making the trade even sweeter is the uncertainty surrounding the 49ers receivers after this season. Michael Crabtree is entering the final year of his deal and will likely demand more money than the 49ers are willing to pay while Anquan Boldin is not getting any younger.
So this typical Baalke trade is both a gain right now and in the long term as it gives the 49ers an influx of talent and roster flexibility going forward. But enough about this trade in terms of value and future implications, let’s tackle the main question, how will Stevie Johnson fit in the 49ers offense in 2014?
To answer that let’s look at Johnson’s game tape to identify his strengths and weaknesses as a receiver.
Wins at the Line of Scrimmage
The first thing that jumps out when you watched Stevie Johnson play with the Bills was his ability to win at the line of scrimmage with his quickness and body control. Whether he was facing press coverage and corners tried to be physical or off coverage with corners trying to mirror his movements, Johnson was able to win and gain valuable separation at the snap.
Let’s look at two examples of how Johnson was able to create separation right off the line of scrimmage.
Here Johnson shows just how devastating his initial move can be and why he is so effective in the short to intermediate passing game. The quick outside move forces the corner—the defender is actually safety Kenny Vacaro but he played a lot of slot corner last season– to open his hips towards the sideline which allows Johnson gain separation by cutting back inside on the seam route.
With the inside leverage and safety playing in the middle of the field the play is all but over right here. All Johnson has to do is continue up field and snag a well placed throw for the easy six points.
While that play was impressive the next one will stick out to 49ers fans because Johnson shows the ability to beat Richard Sherman’s press coverage.
This play all comes down to body control. When Sherman lunges forward and places a powerful jab into Johnson’s left shoulder, Johnson’s body recoils and redirects the energy into his own right arm. By doing that not only is his momentum not impeded as Sherman was aiming to do but it gives him power to push Sherman outside and gain separation on the quick slant.
Similar to the last play, once Johnson has won at the line of scrimmage there is nothing realistic that can stop him from gaining 10-15 yards.