The San Francisco 49ers offense seemed to sputter at times last season. They were extremely predictable and one-dimensional for a large part of the season. A big reason for that was the lack of wide receiver Michael Crabtree, who was quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s favorite target in 2012. However, even with Crabtree, they lacked a wide receiver that could take the top off of a defense.
This offseason the 49ers traded for wide receiver Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills. Johnson is what you would call a burner. He’s the kind of receiver that can run a go-route and run right past the cornerback and safety.
What this does for the 49ers is it forces defenses to keep a safety back and on Johnson’s side, preventing the safety from sitting on Anquan Boldin or Crabtree, who both have great hands and amazing ability after the catch but neither possess great speed. Now these two will see a lot more single coverage week to week. This gives the offense so much more freedom, a kind of freedom they haven’t had in the Jim Harbaugh-era.
So with the addition of Johnson, the 49ers will likely line up Boldin, Crabtree, Johnson, and tight end Vernon Davis on most plays. If utilized correctly, there isn’t a defense in the NFL that can stop all of them consistently. And with all of those players in, the 49ers would still be able to run. Crabtree and Boldin are very good run blockers for their position and Davis is certainly above average. Even Johnson is an average blocker for a receiver.
Adding Johnson to the roster allows the 49ers to do so many things they haven’t been able to do in a long time. It gives them a constant deep threat and a widest with big play ability. Besides the actual numbers Johnson will put up, he opens up the field for his fellow wide receivers and forces defenses to game plan for his speed. If this offense breaks out this year (I believe it will be a top-10 offense in 2014), I think a big part of it will be because of Johnson and the freedom he gives the 49ers.
Side note: CB Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, the 49ers’ biggest rival, has the most trouble with receivers who have straight line speed (watch what TY Hilton did to him when the Indianapolis Colts played the Seahawks). So look for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to test Johnson on Sherman’s side early and often when the 49ers meet the Seahawks late in the season.