Against all odds, the 49ers didn’t take a guard, punter or long snapper in the fourth round. Instead they did what everyone thought they would two or three rounds earlier, as they drafted a wide receiver and a player who’s listed at cornerback. I say “listed,” because it’s complicated.
But first, the wide receiver. With the 106th overall pick the 49ers took Bruce Ellington, a compact speedster out of South Carolina. I’ll take this as a victory of sorts because over a month ago I named Ellington as one of the mid-round receivers the 49ers might draft (along with Dri Archer, who was taken in the third round by the Steelers). That was based on their interest in DeSean Jackson, but Ellington has a long way to go before earning a seat in Jackson’s class as a receiver or returner.
CBS Sports compared Ellington to Randall Cobb, which actually might be better in certain ways. I also might be biased because I think Cobb is on the verge of becoming a star if he can stay healthy through a full year.
Ellington (5′ 9″, 197) played basketball all four years for the Gamecocks. However, he peaked as a basketball player during his freshman year, when he averaged 12.8 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 3.2 apg. He only played three basketball games his senior year and his shooting numbers were subpar throughout — 35.9% on two-point field goal attempts and 30.9% on threes for his career. But that’s irrelevant here; Baalke loves basketball players because they have advantages as far as footwork and body control while airborne, and Ellington had a vertical leap of 39.5″ that tied him for third (with Davonte Adams) among receivers at the combine.
Over his last two seasons as a football player, Ellington’s numbers were good but not fantastic: 89 receptions, 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns in 25 games. With the 49ers’ newfound depth at the position, Ellington will be groomed as the team’s future slot receiver — maybe not a guy who’ll catch 100+ passes a year like Wes Welker, but a guy who can create matchup problems and provide a deep threat they could pair with Colin Kaepernick for several years. Ellington only returned three punts in college, but he returned 43 kickoffs for 977 yards. With Trent Baalke saying, “we don’t feel an urgency to go out and replace LaMichael (James) at all” last night before complimenting LMJ’s punt return stats, maybe the 49ers don’t care about finding another returner.