The Addition of Stevie Johnson Can Be the Key for the San Francisco 49ers

Jared Wickerham / Getty Images North America
Jared Wickerham / Getty Images North America

“When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree that’s the result you’re going to get” – we all remember Richard Sherman’s rant after the NFC Championship Game in January. It seems like San Francisco 49ers General Manager Trent Baalke was not only listening to Sherman, but acted upon his comments in the offseason. The acquisition of Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills can be just the right move to help the 49ers over the hump.

The addition of Johnson is one of the most overlooked transactions of the offseason. Even when discussing the 49ers’ summer activity, people would rather point to Colin Kaepernick’s contract extension when selecting the most notable move of the franchise. Although, the quarterback’s extension is significant; it keeps the status quo, while bringing over Johnson to the West Coast can represent an upgrade to an offense that already has great potential.

After selecting Sammy Watkins in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Bills were ready to dispose Johnson. Baalke jumped at the chance and traded a conditional 2015 fourth-round pick, which could become a third, to bring the San Francisco native Johnson home.

Johnson showed his potential in Buffalo (Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Johnson showed his potential in Buffalo (Photo: Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Johnson will join an already above average group of pass catchers that included Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Together, the four players have 20 seasons of at least 700 receiving yards, including nine 1,000-yard seasons.

Johnson had a tough year with the Bills in 2013, as he had just 52 catches for 597 yards and scored only three touchdowns. He also missed four games – two due to injuries and two due to the passing of his late mother.

However, between 2010 and 2012 Johnson reached the 1,000-yard mark in all three seasons, while averaging 79 receptions and nearly eight touchdowns per season.

One of Johnson’s best games came against the 49ers’ divisional foes, the Seattle Seahawks, in Week 15 of the 2012 season. He caught eight passes for 115 yards – both were season-highs – while also scoring one touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, with that game the Kentucky alum became one of only four players in the last two seasons who caught at least three passes, while being covered  by Richard Sherman – the others being Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Titus Young.

Let’s have a look at Johnson’s receptions from that game in Toronto. I apologize for the quality of the footage, seems like Toronto didn’t receive the memo on the quality requirements of the All-22 tape.

(5:00 remaining from the 1st quarter; 1st&10)

The Bills used a packaged play, which included a run and a pass play as well. The offensive line run blocked; however, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, noticing the off-man coverage of Richard Sherman, threw a screen pass to Johnson, who earned an additional five yards with a well-placed stiff arm before being dragged out of bounds by Sherman.

 (1:32 remaining from the 1st quarter; 1st&10)

This time Sherman opted for press coverage against Johnson; however, the receiver easily shook off the defender and got an inside release for a slant route towards the, now empty, middle of the field. Following eluding a tackle attempt from Earl Thomas, Sherman caught up to Johnson 14 yards downfield and brought the receiver down.

(1:22 remaining from the 2nd quarter; 3rd&7)

On 3rd & 7 Johnson lined up in the slot facing Sherman, who again used press coverage. Johnson gained an inside release, without Sherman being able to even put his hands on the receiver. Although, the defender tried to catch up to Johnson; when the receiver broke for a corner route after 15 yards, it further increased the gap between the two, and resulted in an easy touchdown for the Bills.

(00:41 remaining from the 2nd quarter; 1st&10)

On the first play of the Bills’ following possession, Johnson lined up in the backfield next to Ryan Fitzpatrick before motioning to the slot position. The Seahawks played a Cover-3 defense, but the receiver could capitalize on the Seahawks’ error of letting both players in the area to be outside their outside shoulder.

(14:13 remaining from the 3rd quarter; 3rd&20)

On 3rd & 20 the Seahawks played a loose zone defense with an additional safety more than 20 yards downfield to prevent a big play. However, Johnson, running a post route from the slot, took advantage of Earl Thomas biting on the outside receiver. Although, the pass went behind the receiver and was high; Johnson made a spectacular one handed catch and kept the drive alive with a 25-yard grab.

(12:12 remaining from the 3rd quarter; 1st&15)

Johnson, once again, lined up in the slot. With a quick step towards the outside of the field, he created enough separation from cornerback Jeremy Lane to make an 8-yard reception on the curl route.

(11:56 remaining from the 3rd quarter; 2nd&7)

On the following play the Seahawks linebackers dropped back into coverage to prevent the Bills from getting a first down. However, Johnson, running a spacing route from the slot, found the soft spot of the zone and reached out for a first down before linebacker Leroy Hill could get to him.

(9:09 remaining from the 4th quarter; 1st&10)

With the game all but over – the Seahawks led 50-17 – the Bills offense faced the second-string defense of Seattle. Free safety Chris Maragos lined up seven yards from Johnson, who – potentially due to reading the coverage – ran an out route from the slot and gained six yards before Maragos pushed him out of bounds.

It is necessary to note that this game was played in the 2012 season and it was a blowout win for the Seahawks. However, the videos above illustrate how the new acquisition of the 49ers could find the soft spots of the Seattle defense and at the same time he seemed to have Richard Sherman’s number.

Johnson showed he's capable of beating Sherman (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson showed he’s capable of beating Sherman (Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports)

Johnson turned 28 in July, so no doubt there is still plenty left in the tank. Even though he had an unsung arrival; Stevie Johnson might be the key to the 49ers playing two games in Glendale over the 2014 season.

The second would, obviously, be the Super Bowl.

This Could Be the Season Danny Amendola Lives Up to the Hype for the New England Patriots

Al Bello / Getty Images North America
Al Bello / Getty Images North America

The media and fans have been claiming Danny Amendola to be injury prone for his entire career. 2014 can finally be the season when the wide receiver makes the headlines rather with his performance than his injuries.

The Texas Tech alum arrived in Foxborough in 2013 to fill the shoes of a Denver-bound Wes Welker; however, he couldn’t meet these expectations in his first season, as he caught only 57 passes for 710 yards and scored two touchdowns, while playing in just 14 of New England’s 18 games due to injuries.

If Amendola can stay healthy – and that obviously is a big if – with one year in the Patriots system under his belt he could have a breakout season. Combining his talent level and the fact that the Patriots offense is staying intact can result in a season with 90+ receptions and 1,000+ yards for the first time in Amendola’s career. Continue reading

Justin Blackmon: What Does the Future Hold for the Jacksonville Jaguars Wide Receiver?

AP Photo
AP Photo

Of the 32 players selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft, 31 report this week for training camps – 28 to the team that drafted them. The lone exception, Jacksonville Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon is currently indefinitely suspended for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy. The troubled Blackmon will probably get only one more shot; does he have what it takes to turn it around?

Blackmon’s first two seasons at Stillwater went by without any noticeable off the field problem. After being redshirted in 2008, he caught 20 passes and scored two touchdowns for the Oklahoma State Cowboys in his sophomore season.

The mugshot of Blackmon after his first arrest

The mugshot of Blackmon after his first arrest

Blackmon first ran into trouble when he was arrested on 26 October 2010 for a DUI after being clocked doing 92 mph in a 60 mph zone, while driving home with friends from a Dallas Cowboys game.

“That was the first time he had a run-in with the law” told Gunter Brewer, Blackmon’s WR coach at Oklahoma State, in a phone interview with Inside Handoff. Continue reading

Johnathan Franklin: Is the Former Green Bay Packer the Future Mayor of Los Angeles?

Jeff Gross / Getty Images
Jeff Gross / Getty Images

419 days. That’s how long UCLA’s leading rusher’s NFL career lasted. Johnathan Franklin announced on 19 June that he will not play in the 2014 season and will probably not return to the NFL. Well, at least not to the field, but they should expect him at Los Angeles City Hall sometime soon.

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The NFL must think twice before expanding to London

Dave Shopland / AP
Dave Shopland / AP

The NFL has become more and more popular on the old continent over recent years. Commissioner Roger Goodell has expressed his intention of expanding to London several times since he assumed office. However, the league should pull the brakes.

The first regular season game took place at Wembley Stadium in 2007 when the Miami Dolphins “hosted” the New York Giants. Seven games have been played in London since and all but one had attendance figures of more than 80,000.

The British hosted two games for the first time in 2013, while the Wembley will feature three regular season matchups in 2014. The commissioner hopes this will lead up to an expansion team landing in London in the near future. Continue reading

Mr. Irrelevant? Not So Fast!

Joe Murphy / Getty Images North America
Joe Murphy / Getty Images North America

By the end of the sixth round of the NFL Draft, phone lines get hot in the war rooms of all 32 NFL teams. However, at this time teams are not calling their selection nor Radio City Music Hall, but players who could go unselected in order to convince them to sign with their team as undrafted free agents. For example, in December Julian Edelman admitted to The MMQB’s Peter King that he was ready to sign with the Green Bay Packers in 2009 before the Patriots selected him with the 232nd pick.

Lonnie Ballentine received several similar phone calls on the third day of the 2014 NFL Draft on 10 May. However, he was the lucky one who got the last of those calls, which notified a player of being selected.

Ballentine doesn't care about his new title (Photo: Mark Weber)

Ballentine doesn’t care about his new title (Photo: Mark Weber)

He was selected by the Texans with the 256th pick of the draft, thus earning him the title that goes to the last pick of every NFL Draft, Mr. Irrelevant.

After talking to the Texans one of the safety’s first outgoing calls was to Barry Odom, his former defensive coordinator at Memphis.

„He called me pretty soon after he got the phone call.” Odom told Inside Handoff in a phone interview.

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The Coach’s View: Jadeveon Clowney

Scott Halleran / Getty Images
Scott Halleran / Getty Images

Who knows the most about a football player if not his coach? Inside Handoff reached out to the positional coaches of the top prospects before the 2014 NFL Draft. In the 40 days leading up to the first day of this year’s draft I will count down by sharing comments from these top players’ own coaches. Today I share Deke Adams’ view on South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

Jadeveon Clowney (Photo: South Carolina Athletics)

Jadeveon Clowney (Photo: South Carolina Athletics)

Name: Jadeveon Clowney

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 274 lbs

Position: Defensive End

University: South Carolina

Coach: Deke Adams

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