Part of this process included the offseason acquisition of 32-year-old veteran Brandon Lloyd.
Lloyd will try to assist a 49ers passing game that ranked No. 30 in the NFL last season (2,979 yards) and a red-zone offense that ranked 15th in touchdown conversions.
But the story goes much deeper than a team adding a prolific veteran with the hopes of a significant upgrade. In fact, Lloyd's future with the 49ers is not even guaranteed when one considers some of the other actions San Francisco made in subsequent weeks.
The 49ers also beefed up their receiving crop during the 2014 NFL draft, essentially adding two wideouts during the process—Stevie Johnson (via a trade) and South Carolina's Bruce Ellington.
These players, combined with the incumbents on San Francisco's roster, could mean Lloyd was little more than a safety net.
With all that in mind, does Lloyd find himself on the final 53-man roster when the 2014 regular season kicks off?
Let's try to answer that.
From a statistical standpoint, Lloyd looks as if he still has plenty of game left in his body.
Lloyd sat out all of the 2013 season pursuing other ventures, yet one cannot overlook the fact that he averaged just over 1,100 yards receiving in the prior three seasons—1,448, 966 and 911, respectively.
His 1,448-yard performance in 2010 with the Denver Broncos topped the NFL at his position.
Lloyd has also shown his value in the red zone—an area the 49ers would like to see improvement in 2014.
Of his 37 career touchdowns, 19 have come within the red zone per Doug Williams of NBC Bay Area.
This facet alone gives Lloyd a substantial edge as the 49ers continue with their offseason workouts and organized team activities (OTAs).
Contractually speaking, Lloyd is a cheap commodity. His one-year, $1.005 million contract with zero guaranteed money gives the 49ers plenty of flexibility when the time comes to determine whether or not the coaching staff wants to retain him over the course of the season.
The fact that Lloyd missed all of 2013 certainly drove the price down.
The Competition at Wide Receiver
In 2013, San Francisco suffered from a thin wideout crop. To put things bluntly, it was the veteran Anquan Boldin and essentially nobody else for much of the season.
Michael Crabtree missed all but five games due to injury. 2013 fourth-round pick Quinton Patton also was absent for much of the year recovering from a foot ailment.
These factors—and more—contributed to the 30th-ranked pass offense that season.
As far as 2014 goes, however, the 49ers receiving corps will look vastly different than it did a season ago.
|2013 Regular-Season Statistics for Current 49ers Wide Receivers|
|Games||Receptions||Yards||Touchdowns||Avg. Yards per Reception|
|Brandon Lloyd (DNP)||0||0||0||0||0|
|Bruce Ellington (South Carolina)||12||49||775||8||15.8|
|Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com|
Crabtree and Patton are returning fully healthy. Boldin was signed for two more years. The additions of Johnson and Ellington during the draft also factor into the equation. Jon Baldwin and Kassim Osgood also are vying for a roster spot.
Both Boldin and Crabtree are all but guaranteed roster spots in the upcoming season. There is no questioning that. Johnson and Ellington—players who add the much-needed speed game to the 49ers offense—also look as if they are safe to make the final squad.
It is hard to fathom San Francisco giving up on Patton so early in his career. Despite his 2013 injury, Patton did impress during the preseason last year and had a number of impact plays down the stretch.
After those five, the competition boils down to Lloyd, Baldwin and Osgood.
Osgood has significant value on special teams, so that is likely where his value will be felt. Baldwin—the 2011 first-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs—is a long shot to making the roster given the disappointing start to his professional career.
Then there is Lloyd.
This number of wideouts adds up to a total of eight guys who are vying for perhaps six roster spots. As stated by Mike Wilkening of NBC Sports, the 49ers will most assuredly not keep eight players on the roster for this position. There is simply too much depth.
Performances at OTAs
We know that head coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of San Francisco's coaching staff love competition. The 49ers have plenty of that at wide receiver.
Both Boldin and Crabtree have been minimally involved during OTAs, per Josh Dubow of Yahoo! Sports. The 49ers are taking their time with Crabtree to ensure the Achilles injury he suffered last year does not repeat itself in 2014.
Johnson has been nursing a hamstring injury for much of the period as well.
All of these factors have given Lloyd more of an opportunity to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers offense—an opportunity Lloyd has seized.
Here is what Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area said about the developing chemistry between Lloyd and Kaepernick back on May 28:
Kaepernick and Lloyd, who signed this offseason as a free agent, were seen discussing the various aspects of the plays. A short time later during an 11-on-11 session in the red zone, Kaepernick hooked up with Lloyd for a touchdown. Kaepernick appears to have built good chemistry with Lloyd in a short period of time. Lloyd, 32, did not play last season. In his previous three seasons, he caught a combined 20 touchdown passes in stints with Denver, St. Louis and New England.
Harbaugh has also been impressed with the veteran wideout, as his statements via Wilkening indicate:
"Seeing surge off the line of scrimmage. He’s got the ability to burst at the top of his routes. Runs excellent routes. Acrobatic type of catches that he’s able to make. Really good hands. So far really good. No, it does not seem like a guy that’s had a layoff from football for a year."
Even perennial Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis was quick to praise Lloyd for his efforts during OTAs, as stated via Dubow:
"I know that we played him, he got behind our defensive backs a few times. But when you see him on film, I swear I don't know how he comes out of the breaks, comes off his start, as fast as he does. We're glad to have him on our team and I know he's going to make some plays for us."
Lloyd has certainly impressed all the right people thus far. All signs worthy of indication at this point suggest that Lloyd is still cut out to be a contributor at the position, which gives the 49ers added options as they move toward the regular season.
But will that be enough?
As we have stated a number of times already, Lloyd has fierce competition when it comes to battling it out for a final spot on the 53-man roster.
Had the 49ers not been able to make the moves they did during the draft—trading for Johnson and acquiring Ellington in Round 4—the relatively cheap addition of Lloyd would have been a tremendous move, adding both speed and veteran presence to the 49ers receiving corps.
But San Francisco did add both Johnson and Ellington and have a fully stocked roster at the position.
When factoring all this together, in combination with the remaining wideouts on the roster, Lloyd looks as if he is a mere insurance policy for the 49ers and little more.
The move is reminiscent of the 2013 deal for veteran cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha—signed for the near minimum with zero guaranteed money. In short, these deals are low-risk, low-reward transactions that at least provide the team with added depth and options in case of injury or underwhelming performances by other players.
This does make Lloyd expendable—if not leading up to Week 1, certainly in the weeks and months that follow. Essentially, Lloyd will have to continue to show his worth if he hopes to remain on San Francisco's roster.
Lloyd understands this and has stated so, via Taylor Price of 49ers.com. When asked what his future role with the team would be, Lloyd responded:
"No clue. I have so many steps I have to take before I can even consider myself on the team, on the roster. Really, I’m just focused on being in condition and being in the right mindset to perform well at the OTAs and perform well at the minicamps."
Thus far, Lloyd has done particularly well in meeting those expectations at OTAs.
But OTAs do not involve contact and are limited when it comes to the full scope of offense versus defense. It will be interesting to see how Lloyd responds when full-contact drills resume in July.
There is also the fact that Lloyd has missed a full season at the NFL level. There is obviously some rust that will need to be shaken off, but there is also the added year of rest and recuperation from the rigors of an NFL season on a 32-year-old body.
All of these elements will continue to factor into the final equation.
The ultimate decision will eventually fall on the 49ers coaching staff when it comes to adding Lloyd to the final 53-man roster.
The coaches have far greater insight as to Lloyd's prospects for making the team. But we can take into consideration all the aforementioned details and try to predict what eventually happens in 2014.
There are varying accounts either way.
Brian Cox of Rant Sports predicts that Lloyd will be on the roster for Week 1—citing both his impressive performance at OTAs and his veteran presence influencing the younger group of receivers on San Francisco's roster.
Bleacher Report featured columnist Bryan Knowles acknowledges that Lloyd has an uphill battle when it comes to securing a spot, but his situation looks far better now after OTAs.
There is also the notion that Lloyd's value can be seen in his red-zone performance. The 49ers need help in this regard, and Lloyd can provide that. Even if he is not a regular contributor on offense, the fact that Lloyd has demonstrated success in the red zone gives him considerable value.
On the other hand, Lloyd's chances are still remote when one considers all the players he will have to thwart to make the roster.
This is the stance taken by James Brady of Niners Nation, who writes:
Lloyd's signing, as discussed, was probably insurance more than anything. He'll be the first guy the 49ers call if someone gets injured during the season. Given that he offers no special teams value, it's hard to imagine him making the roster. But nothing is impossible, so I'll suggest Lloyd's chances are "very low."
It's a mixed bag of opinions whether or not Lloyd earns the nod in Week 1 and thereafter. He does offer a lot of value at a low price, but the 49ers would also be wise to utilize their other talents at the position—further developing young players like Ellington and Patton.
The fact that Lloyd is such a cheap commodity could essentially halt his chances. In essence, the 49ers brought him in as insurance—like Brady said—and as a competitive piece against some of the depth players at wide receiver.
But for now, knowing what we know already, let us assume that Lloyd does make the roster at the start of the season. This author expects the 49ers to try to get something out of their offseason investment, at least in the early phases of 2014.
Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, and Lloyd's final landing spot is a perfect example. At this point, he should make the final 53-man roster based on his performance thus far.
He has done nothing to showcase otherwise.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive, including further analysis, insight and opinion.
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