When the 49ers signed Brandon Lloyd as a free agent in April, the news barely made a ripple across the league.
He was a 33-year-old receiver who had sat out a year and burned bridges with several of the six teams he’d played for, including the 49ers, who originally drafted him in 2003.
Even though Lloyd has had some great seasons – he led the NFL in receiving yards in 2010 with 1,448 – he’d been out of the game and didn’t seem to be the solution to the 49ers’ desire to add an impact wide receiver.
“Even with Lloyd having a chance to be the No. 3 receiver, the 49ers are still expected to address the position in the draft,” wrote ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson, at the time.
Yet after a week of training camp, Lloyd has won converts. On a now-deep corps of wideouts, Lloyd – who was held out of camp drills Thursday -- is playing as well as any. Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson are the likely top three wide receivers, but Lloyd should make the roster along with rookie Bruce Ellington and second-year man Quinton Patton.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has clicked with Lloyd, saying he’s constantly open “by a step or two.” And the veteran Boldin has been impressed, too.
“Honestly, it doesn’t look like he took a year off,” Boldin told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think that’s the biggest thing we see as receivers: how smooth he is, getting in and out of his cuts.”
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said that, despite his 10 seasons, 128 games and 385 receptions, Lloyd looks “young and spry.”
An added benefit to his presence on the team, says Boldin, is that he raises the level of competition every day in camp.
“The thing about being that deep and having so much talent, no one is allowed to take a day off,” Boldin told reporters this week. “We have to come out and keep competing.”
After deciding not to play in 2013 after catching 74 passes with the Patriots in 2012, Lloyd intended to concentrate on his acting career. But after a year, he was ready to play football again. Yet the only team that was interested, he says, was San Francisco.
If he continues to show what he’s shown early in 49ers camp, several NFL teams might wish they had signed him.
In one practice session this week, he beat veteran corner Chris Cook for a touchdown, then beat rookie corner Kenneth Acker for another.
“I told him I will throw everything I have at ’em,” Lloyd told a writer for the team’s website afterward. “And we’ll get better as we move.”