The 49ers threw a big, roundhouse curveball at every draft expert.
With NFL analysts seeing the Niners’ need at wide receiver entering last week’s draft, it was widely anticipated that San Francisco would take a wide receiver with its first or second pick in the draft.
Yet the 49ers took a safety with their first pick, a running back with the second , a center with the third, a linebacker with the fourth and an offensive lineman with the fifth.
Finally, with their sixth pick, the Niners took South Carolina wideout Bruce Ellington.
Yet with the draft now behind them, the 49ers – without spending a top pick on a wide receiver – now have perhaps the deepest and most talented wide receiver corps they’ve had in the Jim Harbaugh era.
By trading for Buffalo Bills veteran Stevie Johnson on Day 2 of the draft, the Niners now have starters Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, veterans Johnson and Brandon Lloyd (signed as a free agent recently), second-year pro Quinton Patton and Ellington.
Johnson comes to the 49ers with a very productive history. The 6-2, 207-pounder from Kentucky played six season with the Bills and had more than 1,000 receiving yards in three of the past four. Last season he missed four games, yet still had 52 catches for 597 yards and three scores. From 2010-12, he had season catch totals of 82, 76 and 79.
He’s a big target with good hands and speed, and should give quarterback Colin Kaepernick yet another veteran to instantly trust – the way he trusts Crabtree and Boldin.
Ellington, meanwhile, brings another dimension. His 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash at the Combine makes him the 49es’ fastest wideout.
Said Bill Williamson of ESPN.com: “Ellington gives the 49ers blazing speed from a receiver, the one thing they appeared to be lacking.”
Ellington, also a point guard on the South Carolina basketball team, has terrific speed and quickness on a 5-foot-9 3/8, 197-pound frame.
The scouting report from NFL Draft Scout.com on Ellington says he still has much refining of his skills to do, but has “natural burst and smooth acceleration that makes him dangerous.”
The biggest difficulty for many in this group will be getting playing time. With Crabtree and Boldin the starters and Johnson a deserving, productive addition, Patton, Lloyd and Ellington – as well as No. 6 receiver and special teams standout Kassim Osgood – may have to be patient for their opportunities.
But the 49ers now have a deep, talented group that should be able to weather injuries much better in 2014 than in recent seasons. They didn’t do the expected thing and draft a wideout with their first- or second-round picks, but by trading for Johnson and waiting to get Ellington – a great value in his spot – the 49ers like what they have.
Speaking after all his selections were made, 49ers GM Trent Baalke said the wide receiver corps is in for “a very competitive camp.” He also noted the team has other players on the roster also with a chance to play, including Jon Baldwin and Chuck Jacobs.
Said ESPN.com’s Williamson of the 49ers passing game potential: “Ellington gives the 49ers blazing speed from a receiver, the one thing they appeared to be lacking. With Johnson, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, the 49ers have plenty of veterans who will get open. Now, they can design packages to leverage Ellington’s speed.”