Amid a crowded roster and heated competition at nearly every position, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Quinton Patton finds himself in a unique position to stand alone.
Combined with a zealous work ethic and an explosive play-making ability, Patton can take advantage of favorable defensive matchups to both win a starting job and steal the spotlight in 2013.
The 2013 fourth-round draft pick from Louisiana Tech is used to playing outside the numbers and receiving attention.
Last season as the Bulldogs' top receiving threat, Patton hauled in 104 passes for 1,392 yards—the fifth most receiving yards in the country—and 13 touchdowns. Though Patton competed primarily against defenses from the WAC, his best game came against SEC talent in a 59-57 shootout loss to Texas A&M.
Patton used his elusiveness to torch the Aggies for 233 yards on 21 receptions, including four touchdowns.
That night, there was no doubt Louisiana Tech quarterback Colby Cameron would be looking Patton's way, yet the two-time All-WAC team selection posted career numbers.
Needless to say, if Patton can come close to the numbers he posted in college during his first year as a pro, 49ers' head coach Jim Harbaugh will be more than pleased.
Harbaugh became enamored with Patton when the rookie paid for his own transportation to the team's practice facility on May 2, only to be told a familiar phrase in show business and occasionally professional sports: hurry up and wait.
Now that Patton does not have to wait any longer, the young pass-catcher has been hard at work, absorbing all that he can from his veteran teammates.
"The process is going pretty good. You just heard Vernon Davis come over and holler at me; he’s really been helping me out with my hands, catching every ball, extending my hands. Since Anquan Boldin’s been out here, he’s been helping me with my releases, trying to get more physical off the press. (Colin) Kaepernick, he’s been helping me with all the plays."
The pressure to perform at a high level will certainly fall on the shoulders of the Niner's receiving corp, but statistics and game film show that San Francisco still has a run-first offense.
In 2012, San Francisco had the seventh most running plays in the NFL while averaging 5.1 yards per carry, according to ESPN.com.
The 49ers placed emphasis on running the ball with Alex Smith under center and continued to do so after the emergence of Kaepernick and the pistol offense.
San Francisco features arguably the best offensive line in the league, and it will be up to them to protect Kaepernick—who will garner the most attention of any offensive player this season—and keep its high-octane offense functioning.
The emphasis on the running game equates to exploitable matchups on the opposite side of the ball for Patton, be it the threat of Kaepernick's scrambling ability or the threat of a handoff to Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter or LaMichael James.
With Anquan Boldin having all but secured the No.1 wide receiver title in Crabtree's absence and Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham both returning from season-ending knee injuries, the battle for the 49ers' second starting wide receiver position has become an open competition.
It is a competition that Patton could soon win.