San Francisco 49ers: Who is wide receiver Bruce Ellington?

Nov 29, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington (10) catches the ball during warm ups before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2015; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington (10) catches the ball during warm ups before the game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports /

In the next installment of Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series on San Francisco 49ers players in 2017, we take a look at wide receiver Bruce Ellington and determine what his uncertain future might be.

The San Francisco 49ers were supposed to get a speedy and elusive offensive contributor when they selected former South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington in Round 4 of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Ellington, who had a notable collegiate career, was an immediate contender for slot-receiving duties that year. And he offered special teams ability in the return game.

Instead, Ellington’s pro career has been marked by underachievement and injury.

The 5-foot-9, 197-pound wideout missed six games with various injuries his first two seasons and was sparingly used his first two seasons with San Francisco:

Bruce Ellington Receiving Table

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/23/2017.

And he missed all of 2016 with a hamstring injury.

With a revamped receiving corps under general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, what chances does the 25 year old have to make the 53-man roster this season?

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

Why He’ll Improve

In fairness, Ellington hasn’t exactly been a part of a prolific offense up to this point.

Former head coach Jim Harbaugh still preferred veteran talent over rookie contributors back in 2014 — Ellington’s rookie year. This might explain why he saw only 12 passes thrown his way and usually in limited duty.

And under then-offensive coordinator Geep Chryst in 2015, Ellington was still scantly used in an offense that finished dead last in points scored (238).

Shanahan is known for scheming his receivers to get open. And Ellington does have one element Shanahan prefers — speed. At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2014, the former Gamecock clocked a 4.45 40-yard time.

2017 might be the season in which Ellington is actually allowed to thrive in an offensive system intended to best utilize his talents. In addition, it’s going to be a “prove it” year for the otherwise disappointing receiver.

If that’s not motivation enough, what is?

Why He’ll Regress

On the flip side, Ellington won’t be handed any job just because he’s a carryover from the previous Niners regime.

San Francisco replaced Ellington, essentially, by trading for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley just before the 2016 season. As Ellington was nursing his hamstring injury, Kerley ended up leading the 49ers in total receiving yards (667) and was one of only a few reliable offensive contributors the team had under former head coach Chip Kelly.

With Lynch re-signing Kerley to a three-year deal this offseason, it’s pretty clear the Niners hold him in higher regards than the guy he replaced.

Kerley isn’t the only one on San Francisco’s depth chart Ellington will have to overcome. San Francisco also added fellow receivers Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. The team also drafted former Louisiana Tech slot receiver Trent Taylor in Round 5 this year.

In this case, Ellington’s past works against him. He has yet to prove himself as a viable commodity to the 49ers offense and special teams.

What to Expect in 2017

Ellington has a few hurdles to clear during training camp and the preseason.

In addition to the numerous offseason acquisitions, who likely are placed above him on the depth chart, Ellington will have to prove he can stay injury free leading up to Week 1.

And even that may not be enough to crack the regular-season roster.

More from Niner Noise

On one hand, Lynch hasn’t hesitated to clear out players he feels aren’t worthy of the offseason contributions necessary between now and September. The fact Ellington remains on the 90-man roster lends him a chance.

But having a chance and capitalizing on it are two different things. The more likely scenario is the 49ers are letting Ellington compete with, and push, the team’s other receivers in what promises to be an intriguing battle for slot duties this upcoming year.

Next: 5 bold predictions for the 49ers roster in 2017

It’s a battle Ellington probably doesn’t win. And since he hasn’t shown much on the field to date, there seems to be little reason for Lynch and Co. to keep him on the roster in 2017.