Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Since his arrival, wideout Anquan Boldin has made no bones about it; he is going to be the top dog in San Francisco’s receiving corps, at least for the time being. In the wake of Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tendon injury, the 49ers had to have a polished veteran step up, and Boldin is it.
The consensus from Santa Clara is that the 11-year pro has looked stellar, in both OTAs and since the opening of training camp. The on-field rapport between Boldin and quarterback Colin Kaepernick has already begun to glimmer, too, which is uplifting, given the current circumstances.
But outside of that connection—which folks are hoping is automatic—the position is as wide-open as it gets.
What we do know is that there will be several young, high-profile players who will be competing for time behind Boldin. We also know that the plan of action is to restore that production by means of a committee, rather than a traditional No. 2. Either way, one receiver will have to finish second in reps taken.
After recently being activated from the PUP list with an ACL tear, it was reported that Kyle Williams was featured with the first-team offense as the “Z” receiver, via Taylor Price of 49ers.com. Mind you, it is early, and it is a competition—Williams is just a four-year pro who is entitled to the spot until proven otherwise.
This is where rookie Quinton Patton enters the conversation.
Having gone from no school, to junior college, to exploding for two straight years in the NCAA, Patton is a remarkable success story—and a rising star to boot. It has gotten to the point where pundits have stopped doubting him, and, instead, are wondering what he is going to do next.
With that said, it would be one thing for Patton to challenge Williams—who he is comparable to stylistically—but he also has to distinguish himself from two interesting players who are built to be outside receivers. The rookie would first have to unseat A.J. Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette, who are heavy favorites.
Running in the mid-to-low 4.3s, Jenkins and Lockette each have a top gear that the Louisiana Tech rookie does not possess. Jenkins was also seen getting his share of reps with the first team already, which was a reminder of his first-round status and the fact that the Niners always envisioned a featured role for him.
Not to mention, Lockette is a third-year pro who fits in as a natural X or Z receiver and has been working directly with Kaepernick for the better part of a year. He is separate from the rest of the pack in that he is the only height/weight/speed specimen competing in camp this season.
But despite the obstacles in front of him, Patton is a player who could sneak up on all three of the aforementioned receivers. The thing about him—regardless of his rookie status—is that Patton has a natural feel for the position. Whether it was JUCO, the WAC, the SEC or the Senior Bowl, he was always a big-time player on the field.
After having a sitdown with NFL draft analyst Scott Bischoff of New Era Scouting, he was able to comprehensively explain to me how the receiver’s “natural wiggle” enables Patton to beat just about anybody.
“He’s ready to go now. Everything he does is full speed. It seems effortless. There are some Reggie Wayne comparisons. Just the fluent effortless efficiency of everything he does, which, mainly for him, is his route running; his ability to separate. We loved what we saw,” said Bischoff on Niner Talk Central.
Elaborating on why the receiver is NFL-ready, Bischoff shared his scouting notes on Patton from the Senior Bowl:
He played with savvy, almost on every snap. There were head fakes, there were shoulder fakes. He sold everything and it looked like he was beating everybody. He did a really good job in every aspect—catching the ball away from his frame. Just a savvy route-runner, very highly polished.
He does not have great long speed but he has enough quickness where he is going to be very difficult to cover. He has the ability to put himself on the field and be productive right away.
Reality: In all likelihood, Kyle Williams and A.J. Jenkins begin the season as the two primaries opposite Anquan Boldin, with Quinton Patton predominantly featured in the slot. When he is 100 percent, Mario Manningham will also have seniority over Patton.