Until the NFL owners lift the lockout and a new CBA is crafted and signed by both parties, football will crawl. Free agency has been put on hold indefinitely and coaches and players cannot have contact with each other. Yet the Chicago Bears are not sitting on their hands.
Recently, Bears representatives met with former USC wide receiver Ronald Johnson. The 5-11, 195-pounder is slightly undersized but has good speed, running a 4.46 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. He is a raw prospect who won't be able to come in and start immediately but he's very athletic and has game-breaking potential.
Johnson was a second team All-Pac-10 selection as a punt returner and honorable mention selection as a wide receiver in 2010. He was second on the team with 64 catches for 692 yards and eight touchdowns. For his career, Johnson is tied for tenth in school history with 138 receptions and is fifth all-time with 1,351 kickoff return yards.
WR Ronald Johnson
At the combine, Johnson showed he still needs to work on his route running. He often has trouble keeping his balance coming out of his breaks and catches too many balls with his body. Bigger cornerbacks will have their way with him, as he's not very strong and has trouble beating the jam at the line of scrimmage. There are also concerns about his durability.
Yet he does show flashes of big-play potential. While he didn't run a blazing 40 time, he has great on-the-field speed. He's very quick, has decent hands and is good after the catch. His ability to work the sidelines is outstanding and yet he's not afraid to go over the middle and make the tough catch. Scouts at the combine lauded his work ethic, as well as his blocking effort in the run game.
Yet as good as Johnson was as a receiver, he was even better as a return man. He returned both kicks and punts at USC. He has good field vision, breakaway speed and a deadly stiff arm. The Bears put him through a workout before the recent rule changes for kickoffs were enacted. It's unclear whether this drops Johnson down on Chicago's list of priorities, as return men don't have nearly as much value now as they did the past 17 years.
In the NFL, he will most likely be asked to play the slot position, where he can utilize his good hands and quickness. He's projected as a third- to fifth-round pick in the upcoming draft.
On film, Johnson looks like a faster version of Earl Bennett with better run-after-the-catch ability. He is so raw though, it will take him at least 2-3 years before he can be a significant contributor. His usefulness is tied to his abilities in the return game, so it remains to be seen if that now de-values him in the eyes of Bears brass.
It's a stretch to say he's a third-round pick, but if he is available in the fourth, and the front office still hasn't addressed the wide receiver position, Chicago may take a flier on him. My biggest concern with Johnson is that he doesn't seem special in any area of the game, other than possibly as a kick returner, for which the Bears already have a Pro Bowler in Devin Hester. He's a top-notch athlete but no area of his game sticks out, which can be said of pretty much all the receivers on the current Bears roster. If it were up to me, I'd look elsewhere.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.