When Chip Kelly took over the 49ers earlier this year, one player he singled out as intriguing was wide receiver Bruce Ellington.
After watching Ellington on film, Kelly said he loved Ellington’s speed and play-making ability and was looking forward to seeing what he can do.
So far, Ellington is putting on a good show.
Ellington, heading into his third pro season, wasn't a huge contributor to the passing game in 2014 and 2015. As a rookie he had six catches for 62 yards and two touchdowns; this past season he had 13 receptions for 153 yards. His biggest contributions have come returning both punts and kickoffs. Over two seasons he’s returned 42 punts for a 7.7-yard average and 50 kickoffs for an average of 25.6. He still may be the 49ers’ best option for both in 2016.
But he’d like to be on the field more as a pass receiver, and through initial organized team activities (OTAs) he’s lining up with the first team as the slot receiver – a huge part of Kelly’s three-wide receiver spread offense. Though Ellington isn’t a big target at 5-foot-9 and 197 pounds, he’d fit the mold of DeSean Jackson, the former Eagles slot receiver (5-foot-10, 178 pounds) who flourished under Kelly in 2013, catching 82 passes for 1,332 yards and nine TDs.
Veteran safety Antoine Bethea said Ellington has been one of the 49ers’ best players in recent OTA sessions.
“I would say right now Bruce Ellington is having a great offseason,” Bethea told reporters this week. “He’s moving well, catching the ball, putting him in position to get the ball in his hands.”
With Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton currently the wide receivers on each side with the first unit, Ellington – if he can stay healthy – could be a big contributor in 2016, wrote Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee.
Wrote Barrows this week: “Given (Blaine) Gabbert’s prediliction for shorter, safer throws, the slot receiver might become his favorite target.” Added Barrows: “His rapport with Gabbert largely will rest on whether he can remain healthy.”
Ellington closed out 2015 with a couple of strong games against the Lions and Cardinals, catching four of five balls thrown his way for 99 yards – including one 44-yarder.
With his quickness, Ellington has the potential to make yards after the catch. It’s possible that he could be one player who benefits greatly from the installation of Kelly’s spread attack this coming season.