Inside Scouting Report: WR Stevie Johnson

One of San Diego's most interesting additions this offseason is Stevie Johnson, a productive and physical receiver who was slowed by injuries and poor QB play over the last couple seasons. Can he turn it around and rediscover his 1,000-yard form in San Diego? To find out, we check in with Scout.com's Bills and 49ers experts for an inside scouting report.

Ryan Talbor is the publisher of Buffalo Football Report. Chris Biderman is the publisher of Niners Digest. Both men were kind enough to take the time to answer some questions on new Chargers receiver Stevie Johnson, who spent his first six seasons in Buffalo before joining the 49ers last season.

Michael Lombardo: What are Johnson's strengths and weaknesses?

Ryan Talbot: Stevie Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the league when it comes to getting off the line of scrimmage. Corners can try to jam Johnson, but they're usually unsuccessful. His footwork is what sets him apart from other receivers. Johnson is about as unorthodox as it comes from a route-running standpoint, but if he can develop chemistry with Philip Rivers he'll be very successful in San Diego. As for weaknesses, Johnson lacks speed and quickness. He'll get open, but he generally can't break away from defensive backs. He's not a home-run hitter but he'll move the chains for the Chargers.

Chris Biderman: Johnson is a solid possession receiver with decent size and the ability to run a lot of routes. He’s not necessarily a deep threat because of his average speed, but he has above-average quickness and is best when asked to beat man coverage.

ML: Is he better on the outside or in the slot?

RT: Personally, I believe Johnson can be successful anywhere. He has a great chance of beating out Malcom Floyd on the outside, but if he doesn't he'll produce in the slot. During his best seasons in Buffalo, Johnson was used in both roles. Every year he improved in the slot, so if they want him to specifically replace Eddie Royal in that role, he can. The Chargers should have an open mind in terms of having Johnson play all over the field.

CB: He was mostly used on the outside in San Francisco’s three-receiver sets with Anquan Boldin normally occupying the slot.

ML: Do you think he can get back to the 1,000-yard form he flashed in Buffalo?

RT: Probably not. When Johnson hit 1,000 yards with the Bills, there wasn't much else there in terms of receivers. He played with a declining Lee Evans in 2010 and others like Roscoe Parrish, Donald Jones, David Nelson, Brad Smith, Naaman Roosevelt and T.J. Graham over his 1,000 yard seasons. Johnson basically saw a large number of targets because of the lack of talent around him at the position. In San Diego, Johnson can be very productive from a reception and first down standpoint. That said, Johnson has never played with a quarterback like Rivers, so I don't want to completely shut the door on Johnson getting back to 1,000 yards receiving.

CB: He could. But with Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd ahead of him on the depth chart, it’s hard to envision Johnson getting enough targets to register another 1,000-yard season. He’s not quite what he used to be physically, and he had issues getting mentally engaged in his role last season with the 49ers behind Michael Crabtree and Boldin. But if there’s an injury to one of San Diego’s two starters, Johnson is a more than a capable fill-in.

ML: How much do you blame poor QB play on his middling production over the last couple years?

RT: It was a big factor. He struggled in EJ Manuel's rookie season with the Bills. It was tough for him because he had developed chemistry with Ryan Fitzpatrick and it wasn't there with Manuel. Manuel also missed time that season and Johnson saw quarterbacks like Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel get playing time. In San Francisco, Kaepernick had a poor season in 2014 and that didn't help Johnson. Having chemistry with Johnson is very important to his success.

CB: I know in his last season in Buffalo he was dealing with an injury and poor quarterback play. But with the 49ers, his role was diminished and the offense was in flux for much of the season. Johnson was good when called upon and had the highest catch rate of any of Colin Kaepernick’s receivers. His playing time varied and he was used inconsistently, which played a role in his low numbers overall. Late in the year he sustained a knee injury that hampered his performance and caused him to miss the last three games of the season. He would have returned to the 49ers if his cap number were not so high, but the team didn’t want to pay a No. 3 receiver $6.5 million, which would have been more than Boldin was making.

ML: Is his personality as volatile as it seems from the outside?

RT: Teammates loved Johnson but sometimes his personality rubbed coaches the wrong way. There was a time when his celebrations cost the Bills field position and Chan Gailey would pull the receiver. That said, Gailey and Johnson seemed to have mutual respect for one another. My understanding is that Doug Marrone did not like Johnson and that is one reason that he found himself as the odd man out last year before being traded to the 49ers. In San Diego, I think you'll see a wide receiver who is very excited to be playing with one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Expect him to be on his best behavior on the field. Off the field, you won't find too many athletes as entertaining as Johnson on social media. Chargers fans will love Johnson.

CB: He was a model citizen during his one season with the 49ers, despite not being used consistently. It was somewhat surprising given what we heard about his time in Buffalo. Johnson was quiet, subdued and didn’t offer much in the form of controversy. It seemed pretty clear he respected Boldin and Crabtree, while also knowing any misgivings would likely lead to getting cut given his high cap figure. I’d imagine he would be a good fit on a contending team like the Chargers with good, young receivers to work alongside.



What kind of impact can Johnson make in San Diego? Discuss in the message boards.



Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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