Heading into the draft, the San Francisco 49ers were undoubtedly targeting an impact wide receiver in the first round.
Mike Evans of Texas A&M and Odell Beckham Jr. of LSU were thought to be two viable targets in a trade-up scenario, but both players went off the board earlier than most anticipated, going seventh and 12th, respectively.
Instead of reaching for a pass-catcher at No. 30, the 49ers took Northern Illinois safety Jimmie Ward and re-evaluated their options at wide receiver. In doing so, the Niners ultimately completed a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
On paper, it's clear San Francisco won this trade. The 49ers acquired a relatively young, talented wideout who has the necessary skill set to get even better with the right coaching staff and quarterback.
However, adding Johnson puts a ton of pressure on the organization and franchise signal-caller Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers have completely overhauled their wide receiving corps during the offseason. The team's biggest excuse last year was that Kaepernick didn't have viable receiving options outside of Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
Of the 3,210 receiving yards the 49ers amassed in 2013, Boldin, Crabtree and Davis accounted for 2,313 of them—nearly three-quarters of the team's total output.
|2013 Receiving Numbers for Boldin, Crabtree and Davis|
The 49ers are hoping Johnson can be the missing piece of the puzzle. Based on his past production (3,832 receiving yards, 301 receptions and 28 touchdowns) and ability to create separation down the field, the 27-year-old should be able to serve as a reliable fourth contributor.
Even though Johnson doesn't have the blazing speed 49ers fans were clamoring for, he does run some of the best option routes in the NFL. Per Matt Miller of Bleacher Report: "A smooth route-runner, Johnson can quickly get into his route and fool a defensive back. His ability to hold the defender and consistently make late breaks in his stem was impressive to watch."
Yes, one could argue that San Francisco doesn't need another possession receiver, but that's simply not true. To me, the move says more about fellow wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and less about the 49ers' intentions of bringing in an additional wide receiver in the draft.
When Lloyd signed his contract with the Niners, it didn't include any guaranteed money, which means he was never going to be anything more than a fallback option for Greg Roman's offense. Johnson will now take his spot as the team's No. 3 receiver, leaving Lloyd to battle for a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Niners could still make it a point to address their need for speed at the receiver position on Day 2 of the draft. Mississippi's Donte Moncrief, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Clemson's Martavis Bryant should all be in play on Friday night.
All three players ran the 40-yard dash in under 4.43 seconds and are lauded as pass-catchers who can take the top off a defense at a moment's notice. Imagine what Moncrief, Richardson or Bryant could do with the likes of Boldin, Crabtree, Davis and Johnson.
Aside from the fact it would be a nightmare for opposing secondaries, San Francisco would be set at the position for years to come. If Boldin were to retire at the end of the 2014 season or Crabtree were to leave in free agency, Johnson, a speedster from the 2014 draft and Quinton Patton would remain.
A tip of the hat to general manager Trent Baalke—he invested little to land a Pro Bowl-caliber player who will help the 49ers in the years to come.
Now, it is up to Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers offense. They have to do their part and live up to expectations as well. If they don't, they should expect plenty of criticism to be thrown their way.
For the first time in a long time, pundits will hold San Francisco's offense to the same standard as San Francisco's defense. The former will have to be the driving force behind the team if the organization wants to capture its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy.
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