Prior to Week One against the Oakland Raiders, the Indianapolis Colts and their general manager, Ryan Grigson, traded a conditional draft choice in 2014 for outside linebacker Cam Johnson. Johnson spent 2012 on the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad, and in 2013 he looked impressive in preseason.
For Colts fans, Johnson in preseason this year was San Fran's Caesar Rayford.
The move was seen by some - including me - as the Colts effectively admitting that, outside of veteran linebacker Robert Mathis, they had no pass rush.
Offseason free agents acquisitions Ricky Jean Francois and Erik Walden are practically useless in pass rushing situations, and rookie first round pick Bjoern Werner has struggled in his transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker.
Cam Johnson was inactive for Sunday's 20-17 win against the Raiders, in which the Colts managed to muster one, single, solitary sack courtesy of Mr. Robert Mathis.
Since the Colts traded for Johnson, I've been wondering what kind of player he is and whether or not he could help the team this year. 49ers blogger David "FOOCH!" Fucillo gave me a bit of insight into Cam and his talent.
Here's Fooch in an email to me last week:
Johnson slipped to the seventh round of the 2012 draft in part because of a sickle-cell trait which could cause mild anemia in games. There were some mentions of work ethic, but I think the general belief was the potential to wear down in games cost him.
He spent most of 2012 on the 49ers practice squad, but was activated late in the season. He came into camp pretty deep down the depth chart as the 49ers drafted a pass rusher in the third round, and added free agent Dan Skuta for pass rush and special teams work.
However, Johnson impressed in the preseason, providing some solid pass rush work off the bench. He really nailed the roster spot in the preseason finale when he had two sacks, several QB hurries and blocked a punt and recovered the ball in the end zone. It was one of the best preseason performances I'll probably ever see.
All that being said, the 49ers dealt him because he was likely going to spend much of the season inactive. There is long-term value, but the 49ers needed more help at wide receiver this season. They made the trade to clear a space for Seahawks wide receiver Chris Harper. The 49ers need to develop young talent, but they are deep enough at outside linebacker that they do not need to spend as much time there.
It'll be interesting to see if, over the next few weeks, if Cam starts getting more snaps than Bjoern Werner. The Colts are somewhat desperate for pass rushing help right now, especially with Werner struggling and Lawrence Sidbury out for the year with a shoulder injury.