In 2013, the San Francisco 49ers were extremely weak at the wide receiver position, especially with Michael Crabtree missing most of the season with an injury. In 2014, they’ve added Stevie Johnson and Crabtree and Quinton Patton are healthy and ready to contribute a lot more than they did last season. They also went out and drafted Bruce Ellington out of the University of South Carolina in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Ellington is a short receiver but is extremely quick off the line to help him beat defensive backs on deep routes. He has a good grasp of the route tree, especially for someone who didn’t even play football his entire time in college, and runs his routes very well. His biggest asset, though, might be the way he can control his body and how he tracks the ball. This skill was most likely developed due to his basketball career in college.
As the starting point guard for the Gamecocks, he was always looking at the big picture and paying attention to how the play would develop. He would see which holes opened up on the defense and attack it. He uses this same skill as a return man. He doesn’t hesitate when he’s returning punts and kicks, which makes him extremely dangerous. With the injury to LaMichael James, look for Ellington to steal the starting spot as the 49ers’ return man. In the 49ers’ first preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night, Ellington had two kick returns for 62 yards. This is something that has been missing from the special teams unit for a long time now.
With receivers on the roster like Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, and Brandon Lloyd, a lot of people didn’t give Ellington a big chance of making the roster in his rookie season. But with the injury to James, which opens up a spot for a new return man, he’s not going to give the 49ers’ front office much of a choice when it comes time to make a decision on his roster status. With his unique talents, he’s making sure there’s a spot on the 49ers’ roster for him. I fully expect Ellington to not only make the final cut, but also to make a fairly significant impact this season. His return skills alone could be the difference in at least one game this season. In 2013, if the 49ers had finished just one game better than they did, they would’ve won the division and hosted the NFC Conference Championship game.