For the past few seasons, the San Francisco 49ers have been considered weak and lacking depth at the wide receiver position. This offseason, the 49ers made it a point to address this weakness and have now made it into a strength. One of the ways they did that was by drafting Bruce Ellington out of the University of South Carolina.
Although Ellington is a good receiver with a lot of potential, he has almost no shot at starting. In 2014, he will most likely be the fifth or sixth receiver on the depth chart. What will most likely earn Ellington a spot on the roster is his return skills. With current return man LaMichael James on the outs with the 49ers, it is a perfect opportunity for Ellington to sneak in and take that spot from James.
Once training camp gets underway, there are a few guys in particular Ellington will be competing with to move up the depth chart. Quinton Patton, who is entering his second season, and Brandon Lloyd, who took off the entire 2013 season, are Ellington’s main competition. Patton has an extra year in this system under his belt and showed a lot of playmaking ability when he wasn’t injured last season. He also trains privately with starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick helping to build their chemistry on the field. Patton will most likely be their fourth receiver.
When Lloyd was signed earlier this offseason, a lot of people wrote him off and just assumed he would eventually be cut. But if his performance up to this point in OTAs is any indication for what’s to come, Lloyd isn’t going anywhere. He has shown great red-zone awareness (a spot where the 49ers have struggled mightily) and has garnered praise from the likes of Kaepernick and head coach Jim Harbaugh. If Lloyd can continue to impress like this, I can’t imagine him being below Ellington on the depth chart.
What Ellington offers is blazing speed, something this offense lacked last season outside of tight end Vernon Davis. Ellington has a great initial burst to beat press coverage and has the raw speed to beat most corners on the deep ball. While at South Carolina, Ellington didn’t run the whole route tree because his football experience is limited (he played basketball at South Carolina before he played football). However, this is an extremely fixable problem and once he tightens up his route running, he will become much more dangerous.
Ellington wasn’t selected by the 49ers so he could start this season and make an impact. He was a pick made looking into the future. Anquan Boldin will most likely be gone after 2015, there’s a good chance Michael Crabtree won’t get an extension after this season, Lloyd only has a season or two left in him and after that it will be Patton and Ellington as the vets at the position. And with Kaepernick’s monster deal that he signed Wednesday, the 49ers certainly won’t have the money to be bringing in high-priced free agents. Don’t expect to see Ellington on offense much this season, but absolutely more and more as his career progresses.