The San Francisco 49ers are poised to make another run at the Super Bowl – this time to bring home the title. After falling just short last season, losing 34-31 to the Baltimore Ravens, the goal this season is to win. The loss of their busiest wide receiver from 2012, Michael Crabtree, to an Achilles injury, could’ve been devastating to their chances. Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams are both coming back from ACL tears, and there is a chance that they might not be ready by the start of the season. The younger tier of wide receivers needs to be prepared to step up. Luckily, it looks like they will be.
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A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco’s first-round pick last year, struggled in 2012, but has been impressive in OTAs. He’s been working alongside Anquin Boldin to improve his routes and to learn the playbook and, according to offense coordinator Greg Roman, has looked better than he ever did last year.
But perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of OTAs is the development of fourth-round pick Quinton Patton. If his success during practices can translate to games, the wide receiver out of Louisiana Tech could turn out to be the biggest steal of the draft.
Patton was quick to endear himself to his new head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Back in April, the rookie flew himself from Nashville to San Francisco and called Harbaugh from the airport to let him know he’d arrived in town. On an interview on KNBR, Harbaugh sang Patton’s praises.
“The fact that he would buy his own ticket, fly out here, just speaks volumes about him. To be honest with you, he reminds me of me. That’s something I would have done. I love it.”
That’s one way to get on a coach’s radar. But it’s not the only note-worthy thing that Patton has on his resume. In two years at LA Tech, he had 183 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns- that’s an average of about seven receptions, 104 yards, and one touchdown per game. Some experts had him projected to go in the first or second round of the 2013 draft, but playing at a smaller school caused some to think that Patton hadn’t faced many tough defenses.
But regardless of where he played, Patton brings a lot of skills to the table that most rookies struggle with. According to Bleacher Report, he has a natural ball-tracking ability and is great at achieving separation during routes. He also has very sure hands, which comes in handy with the arm strength of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
It’s been noted by Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Patton has made some great catches during OTA, but that he’s also made some rookie drops. Patton has said that the biggest transition from college is just learning how to be a professional football player – the speed of the game, learning the playbook – but he’s pulling out all the stops to avoid making rookie mistakes. Alongside Jenkins, Patton has also been working with Boldin on release techniques and learning plays. He’s also been preparing for the physical level of the NFL, the increase in sizes of corners and safeties, and on recognizing coverage with Donte Whitner and Nnamdi Asomugha.
Despite being the closest to Crabtree’s physical size (Patton is 6’0”, 204 pounds, Crabtree is 6’1”, 214 pounds), Patton insists he’s not trying to replace Crabtree. Regardless of whether or not Crabtree was injured, Patton has said that he was coming into OTAs just trying to get on the field. Now that the 49ers are down a receiver, though, there seems to be plenty of room for him, and Patton is willing to do whatever the team needs.
“I like the role that I’m playing right now,” Patton said to SB Nation on the 2013 NFLPA Rookie Premiere. “You know, every receiver wants to start, every rookie wants to start, but behind some veterans that have been to some Super Bowls, and Crabtree, the type of player that he is, it’s good that I’m behind him right now…I want to get on the field right now, any way that I can, special teams and everything, just to contribute to the team…whichever way I can make a play, I think that’s where I’ll be.”