This is part one of a four-part series covering five (yes, five, two will be rolled into one article) 49ers offensive players who have something to prove heading into training camp. Part one looks at 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington.
The first article broke down his scheme fit and projected that he would be an X-factor in an offense that seemed tailor-made to fit his skill set as a speedy slot receiver that former head coach Chip Kelly likes to rely on.
The second article was part of a five player profile essentially doubling down on my theory Ellington would be a productive member of the offense last season.
I was wrong in both occasions.
Throughout his career, Ellington seen the field for a total of 236 offensive snaps since his rookie season in 2014 and has been underwhelming. Of those 236 snaps, he’s touched the ball 26 times, mainly on bubble screens and reverses.
Ellington suffered a severe hamstring tear in the 2016 preseason that landed him on the season-ending injury reserve list. He was projected to be the slot receiver inside of Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton.
Instead, the 49ers were quick to make a trade with the Detroit Lions for wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, the team’s leading receiver last season, and who signed a new three-year contract this offseason in one of new head coach Kyle Shanahan’s first moves.
The signing places Ellington’s status with the team in jeopardy, at least through the preseason.
|6||Kendrick Bourne||WR||203||6-1||Eastern Washington||Rook|
|1||Victor Bolden||WR||178||5-8||Oregon State||Rook|
|18||DeAndre Smelter||WR||226||6-2||Georgia Tech||Rook|
|81||Trent Taylor||WR||181||Louisiana Tech||Rook|
|13||Aaron Burbridge||WR||210||6-0||Michigan St.||1|
|10||Bruce Ellington||WR||197||5-9||South Carolina||3|
|15||Pierre Garcon||WR||210||6-0||Mount Union||9|
As the table above shows, Ellington faces some good competition to even earn a spot on the roster with the additions of Aldrick Robinson, Marquise Goodwin and rookie Trent Taylor.
The above gifs highlight Ellington’s primary skill set: speed.
The bulk of Ellington’s yards came on deep passes in 2014 and 2015.
He could find a spot to shine in one of two ways in the deep passing game: as one of the vertical routes in “4-verticals” or as the underneath route in Shanahan’s version of “4-verticals”, illustrated below:
He also has the ability to create separation on the intermediate crossing routes, another staple of Shanahan’s passing game.
In the above gif, Ellington creates good separation across the field on the boot to the right.
Shanahan will use boot action off of outside zone frequently to set up a series of plays (outside zone, outside zone boot and outside zone boot with a backside wheel, detailed here):
Another crosser Ellington could excel in is the “Yankee” concept on the deep underneath crossing route, a concept I detailed here earlier in the offseason.
These are just same of the way Ellington can be useful to a newly revamped 49ers offense. What’s less certain is if Ellington can stay healthy.
Outside of his limited skill set as a receiver, he has not been a particularly great route-runner and has seen limited action as a punt returner since battling injuries. Despite the above bursts of brilliance, there’s no guarantee that he even fits the rest of the offensive scheme.
If healthy, he has the potential to make the roster but it won’t be an easy battle as he looks to compete for the fourth or fifth receiver spot on the 53-man roster.
Despite all the obstacles, he could impress enough to make the roster as a punt or kick returner, which were a couple of his assigned duties after being drafted.
The odds are long, but Ellington does not seem like the type of player who gives up easily, so he will no doubt go down swinging before they were to cut him.
All gifs and images courtesy of the NFL.