When the San Francisco 49ers signed Brandon Lloyd early in the offseason, it wasn’t exactly the wide-receiver help everyone thought they were going to go after. Most people, me included, also thought it was a move that would almost certainly end with Lloyd not even making the roster. But after a week of OTAs (Optional Team Activities), I’m starting to think we were all wrong.
Lloyd hasn’t played competitive football since the 2012 season when he was playing with the New England Patriots. While with the Patriots he had a PFF (subscription) rating of 12.9, tied for 15th best in the entire NFL. While he only had four touchdown receptions that season, he accumulated 74 catches and 911 yards. More importantly, he is a strong presence in the red zone, something everyone in the 49ers’ organization knows has been a weak spot for the team in recent years.
Since starting OTAs, Lloyd has certainly impressed the right people. The first person he impressed was head coach Jim Harbaugh. After Wednesday’s OTA, Harbaugh said he had been seeing really good things out of Lloyd. “Seeing surge off the line of scrimmage. He’s got the ability to burst at the top of his routes,” Harbaugh said, according to a transcript from the 49ers. “Runs excellent routes. Acrobatic type of catches that he’s able to make. Really good hands.” When asked about Lloyd’s year-long hiatus from football Harbaugh responded with, “No, it does not seem like a guy that’s had a layoff from football for a year.”
The other person he impressed was starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick. During red zone drills, Kaepernick would talk to Lloyd most often. When asked about that, Kaepernick responded, “I think that’s something that we know we’ve struggled with here – the red zone. And that’s something we’re constantly trying to improve. And he’s had success down there. So if there’s something we can pick up from him, how he runs routes, how he sets things up, that’s something we want to take and try to make it ours.”
When the face of the franchise and the starting quarterback, along with the head coach, come out publicly and say things like that, it is quite the ringing endorsement to the general manager, Trent Baalke, that when it’s time to trim the roster down to 53 guys, maybe Lloyd should be one of them. The experience, the skill, the red-zone expertise, and the relationship him and Kaepernick seem to be building are the main reasons I believe Lloyd will end up on the roster come Week 1.
With veterans like Anquan Boldin and Brandon Lloyd on this team, that’s an enormous amount of knowledge being passed on to the younger receivers like Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson and especially Quinton Patton and Bruce Ellington. The latter two are the immediate future for the 49ers at the wide-receiver position and the things they’re learning from veterans like Boldin and Lloyd isn’t lost on Baalke or Harbaugh.