There are many questions for the San Francisco 49ers going into the 2016 NFL season. One of those questions will be the wide receiver position. With Anquan Boldin likely leaving for a Super Bowl contender, the receiving corps will need a new leader. There is young talent on the roster, but it is largely unproven. With Chip Kelly calling the plays in San Francisco, there will be opportunities to earn playing time. Kelly’s rapid fire offense will require depth at receiver.
San Francisco 49ers Wide Receiver Projections
Anquan Boldin has been the heart of San Francisco’s receiving corps for the past few seasons. Odds are he will not re-sign with the team, leaving a huge hole to fill. Boldin’s departure will bump Torrey Smith into the number one receiving position. Smith has the experience needed to take over as leader for a young group. Smith beat his current team in Super Bowl XLVII as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, so he knows what it takes to be successful. Smith is also active off the field in charity work and community activities. Smith signed a five-year, 40 million dollar deal with the 49ers on March 10, 2015.
Something to Prove
Quinton Patton has been largely unimpressive to this point. Patton sat out most of his rookie season with a foot injury. So far through his first three seasons, Patton has only gained 472 yards and three touchdowns. At 6’0″, 204 pounds, Patton has the prototypical size for an NFL receiver. He will need to step up in 2016 and show that he can carry the load as a number two receiver. There is ample young talent on the 49ers roster, and Patton could quickly find himself towards the bottom of the depth chart.
Youth and Potential
Bruce Ellington was drafted by the 49ers in the fourth round of 2014. Standing at 5’9″ and just 197 pounds, Ellington is most likely to be used in the slot. Ellington has recorded 19 catches for 215 yards and three total touchdowns (one of which was a rushing touchdown). Ellington’s biggest contributions thus far have come on special teams, where he has already totaled 1,604 yards. Possessing a great set of hands, he has potential to be a big play threat for the 49ers. The only question with Ellington could be durability issues due to his size. He needs to avoid taking too many big hits.
DeAndre Smelter is another draft pick by the 49ers, taken in the fourth round of 2015. Smelter was recently removed from the NFL’s non-football injury list for an ACL tear, but is still nursing a hamstring injury. Smelter is a big, physical receiver at 6’3″ and 220 pounds. He showed in college that he can adjust to routes well to get open, and has football intelligence. One knock against Smelter was that he is overly reliant on his size. At the next level, the competition is bigger, faster, and stronger. His size will not be as big of an advantage for him at the professional level.
Eric Rodgers is by far the tallest receiver on the 49ers roster at 6’4″. Rodgers comes to the team from the CFL, where he led all receiving categories last season and won a Grey Cup in 2014. Early on in OTAs, Rodgers was impressive. He put to use an outstanding reach, and was snatching uncatchable balls out of the air. Rodgers was quoted as saying after practice one afternoon, “When the ball’s in the air, it’s mine. I don’t like negative plays.” Clearly, Rodgers has a competitive edge, possibly a chip he carries from going undrafted in 2014. All signs point to Rodgers making the team, and seeing substantial playing time this season.
Jerome Simpson was signed in the off-season by San Francisco, and comes over from the Minnesota Vikings. Simpson was suspended last season for a substance abuse violation, and missed the first six games. This was the second time Simpson has been suspended for such a violation. This is his best chance to redeem himself. He is a talented receiver with a ton of upside. Hopefully Simpson can get his head on straight and take advantage of Chip Kelly’s high octane system.