Steve Johnson had three straight thousand yard seasons from 2010-2012, despite questionable quarterback play in Buffalo. However, in the past 2 seasons he’s barely combined for 1000 yards, catching a combined 77 passes for 1032 yards and 6 touchdowns. That might lead you to think that he’s struggled in back-to-back seasons. That’s not entirely true. While he did struggle in 2013, he was simply underutilized last season in San Francisco.
Johnson was incredibly efficient in limited action last season for the 49ers. He graded out as Pro Football Focus’ 22nd ranked wide receiver on just 305 snaps, with no one playing fewer snaps and grading out higher. He caught 35 passes for 435 yards on 49 attempts (71.4%) and 204 routes run (2.13 yards per route run). He’s also graded out above average in 4 straight seasons on Pro Football Focus. Johnson should be better utilized in San Diego and has a chance to put up some solid overall numbers again.
Given that, I like this signing. It’s relatively cheap (10.5 million over 3 years) with likely little to no money guaranteed beyond 2015. It’s also a good fit as the Chargers needed to replace Eddie Royal slot receiver, who signed a 3-year, 15 million dollar deal with the Bears. Johnson comes cheaper than Royal would have (and Royal signed a reasonable deal) and should be able to come close to matching Royal’s 2014 production 62/778/7. On top of that, while he has plenty of experience in the slot, he’s not a pure slot receiver like Royal was so he can play outside if needed, in the likely event of a Malcom Floyd injury (given his age and history).