Chargers Sign Stevie Johnson
The Chargers have shown interest at the wide receiver position throughout free agency, but due to their salary cap situation they were always likely to make a move in the second wave.
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Johnson had his worst season of his career (when healthy) since his rookie season in 2008 where he appeared as a situational player. He finished with just 435 yards receiving and three touchdowns on 35 receptions. Despite the fact that he earned the highest receiving grade (+6.6) of any 49ers wide receiver, he finished as an afterthought in fantasy leagues.
Johnson wasn’t worth a spot on fantasy rosters due to his limited role within the offense. Johnson finished with just 305 total snaps. Once again, he led all 49ers wide receivers in YPRR—yards per route run—with a 2.13 average. Johnson played on over 50 percent of the offense’s snaps in just four games the entire season.
The 49ers’ offense simply didn’t utilize 11 personnel packages very often and it was even more rare to see them feature four wide receiver sets. Johnson ran just 69 routes in the slot and saw 18 targets—both were career lows. Despite the usage, he managed to reel in 17 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown. He also put together a career best 3.00 YPPR and 94.4 percent catch rate in the slot.
It’s important that Johnson had a bounce back season on a per snap basis in 2014, because his 2013 season was the worst of his career on a per snap basis. Last offseason, he took blame and admitted that he had not worked out to stay in shape while trying to learn Doug Marrone’s offensive scheme at the time.
The good news for Johnson is that he has a really good chance to see his role expand in 2015. Eddie Royal, the Chargers’ 2014 slot receiver, saw 773 snaps last season. He played on over two-thirds of the offense’s snaps in 10-of-16 games last season. Royal ran 445 of his 516 routes in the slot last season and saw 66 targets. Only two other wide receivers in the NFL—Randall Cobb and Jordan Matthews—ran more routes in the slot. Royal finished as the WR32 in standard leagues and the WR35 in full-point PPR leagues.
Over the three seasons prior to 2013, Johnson averaged a 79/1,041/7.67 line. His production and role in the slot improved every season. In 2011, Johnson ran just 96 routes out of the slot where he was targeted 19 times and secured 11 of those passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. In 2012, Johnson’s role in the slot expanded and he turned 137 routes into 39 targets and a 27/359/4 line with a 2.62 YPPR—good for third-best among all slot receivers.
Johnson has always won in the NFL with his unique route running and ability to create separation from the defensive back. This style works perfectly with the NFL’s best anticipation quarterback, Philip Rivers. If he doesn’t end up beating out the aging Malcolm Floyd on the outside, he will see no shortage of snaps and targets if only used in the slot in three wide receiver personnel packages. At just 28 years old, Johnson is a major bounce back candidate and someone who could flirt with WR3 numbers.
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Dan Schneier is a staff writer at PFF Fantasy and he also covers the NFL for FOX Sports. You can find him on Twitter @DanSchneierNFL. You can also add him to your network on Google+ to find all of his past material.