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Is new Seahawks WR Marcus Johnson a replacement for Paul Richardson?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Seahawks have an interesting decision to make this offseason in regards to Paul Richardson. After three seasons where he dealt with various injuries and a relative lack of playing time, Richardson had a career season gaining over 700 yards. This number isn’t very impressive on its own, but Richardson made some spectacular catches and was one of their primary deep threats down the field.

To make matters more interesting, the Seattle Seahawks traded Michael Bennett and their seventh round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for Marcus Johnson and a fifth round pick.

One question that I wanted to answer after this trade was whether the Seahawks might see Johnson as a replacement for Richardson in their offense.

To start, Johnson was an undrafted rookie out of the University of Texas back in 2016. His career with the Eagles started on the practice squad and he impressed the Eagles’ coaching staff enough to make the final 53-man roster for their Super Bowl run this season. Combined, he’s played a total of 125 snaps, but he only has six receptions for 45 total yards.

What I noticed on tape was that Johnson’s speed is his primary weapon. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and he used that speed to vertically stretch the defense. Anytime he ran a deep route, it forced the defense to respect him even if he wasn’t the primary target. In this play, his clear out route was designed to make room for the deep out route on the right sideline. Even though the quarterback went elsewhere with the ball, Johnson still did his job.

In Doug Pederson’s offense, he primarily lined up as the outside receiver only playing 10 snaps all season in the slot. He didn’t get many opportunities, but the offense did attempt a couple of deep shots to him this season.

Against Washington Redskins’ Quinton Dunbar, he ran this go route up the left sideline. My main takeaway from watching him run his routes is that while he does have burst, he doesn’t run them with any variation to his speed. He runs all of his routes one speed: fast. It does force the defense backwards, but he never truly creates separation after his initial release. In this play, Dunbar is able to stick to Johnson’s route pretty easily and he didn’t allow any separation.

While this is definitely the case for his deep routes, this speed does help him create underneath. That’s what happened here versus the Carolina Panthers. Johnson was able to bring this ball in for a 16-yard gain after cutting back towards the sideline. He got behind the cornerback’s bail technique and crisply broke down to get the separation necessary for the catch.

Here’s another play versus the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17. Johnson runs a comeback route down the left sideline and he gains enough yards for the first down. He did a good job vertically stretching the deep third defender before breaking down on his route.

My only criticism of this play is that Johnson needs to come down his route more after he makes his cut. There is a full five yards between where he caught the pass and the first down marker, so he had plenty of room to work with. In the future, this would allow Johnson to convert these plays as well as it would give his quarterback a safe throwing window for his passes.

Beyond go routes, he was occasionally used on some short passing concepts. In various games, he ran quick-out routes and slant routes, but he was never the featured receiver for any of their plays. This is completely reasonable considering he was the fifth receiver on their depth chart behind Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, and Mack Hollins.

As of right now, I don’t think Johnson will be ready day one to take over Paul Richardson’s starting role. He definitely has the speed and would be a cheap insurance option, but Richardson brought more to this offense than his burst off the line of scrimmage. He bailed out Russell Wilson on more than one occasion and that skill-set will be hard to imitate if they don’t re-sign him. In my opinion, this move is more about getting a developmental wide receiver and reducing cap space rather than replacing Richardson in their offense.

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