Niner Noise’s annual “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017 rolls along with a breakdown on undrafted free-agent wide receiver B.J. Johnson III and how he fits into the team’s plans this season.
The San Francisco 49ers added former Georgia Southern wide receiver B.J. Johnson III during rookie minicamp in an attempt to give the wideout position a little more competition this offseason.
This move was likely to replace wide receiver K.D. Cannon, who was released by the Niners during rookie minicamp.
Johnson, a four-year contributor for the Eagles, rounds out a receiving depth chart going through some major changes in advance of the 2017 season.
San Francisco 49ers
During his collegiate career, Johnson totaled 1,388 receiving yards and three touchdowns, with his best season coming in 2016.
The 6-foot-1, 212-pound rookie does have some size to his frame, making him a possible red-zone candidate depending on how San Francisco envisions his potential.
Yet his chances to actually make the 53-man roster are pretty slim. It’s not uncommon for rookie-tryout players hoping to land a job even on a practice squad.
So what should we expect of him this season?
Why He’ll Improve
Johnson’s stats don’t exactly suggest he’s a prolific receiver, but such can be the case for late-round pickups or undrafted free agents. It’s not always about the numbers anyway.
What makes Johnson unique is his size. His frame would lead us to believe he’s fairly tough and physical enough to compete for balls at the point of the catch.
And his hands are pretty solid, as shown in this video below:
Johnson also has a knack for creating separation, despite a relative lack of speed. This, and his downfield ability, makes for an intriguing developmental piece for the Niners this season.
Why He’ll Regress
The above video does showcase some ability to create separation, although Johnson doesn’t exactly have the best straight-line speed.
He ran a 4.60 40-yard time at his pro day, which isn’t exactly ideal, especially considering the majority of his routes are fairly simple.
And while his athleticism and solid hands are nice attributes, Johnson won’t exactly offer much after the catch.
These weaknesses will likely be a bit too much for him at the pro level, as NFL defensive backs won’t allow him to create anything near the kind of separation needed.
What to Expect in 2017
As an undrafted free agent signed during tryouts, Johnson already has a major uphill battle to crack the 53-man roster. Even the practice squad would be a stretch.
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The 49ers already have a relatively deep crop of likely regular-season receivers on their roster. Led by veterans Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley and Aldrick Robinson, the Niners have only one or two positions left.
Johnson almost assuredly doesn’t fit into the plans here and, at best, would require a season or two on the practice squad to hone his route-running skills.
Yet the Niners may rather choose to fill the practice squad with more promising talent. This isn’t to say Johnson lacks likable attributes, rather there might be players more worthy of development.
At best, Johnson hangs around on the practice squad this season. More likely is the notion these next few months provide Johnson the chance to showcase his talents with the hope of finding a roster opening elsewhere.