It’s no secret at this point that any wide receiver currently on the San Francisco 49ers not named WR Torrey Smith is in an open competition for playing time. After all, it’s not like the roster’s filled with household names at the position, and a strong camp can catapult even the most obscure player towards the top of the depth chart. While the next month or so will be important for all of them, perhaps no wide out has as much to gain, and just as much to lose, than WR Quinton Patton.
Coming out of Louisiana Tech, Patton looked like a steal when the 49ers selected him in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. The 6’0, 204 pound receiver had just finished two prolific seasons with the Bulldogs, pulling down 183 balls for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns. Scouts liked his hands, and felt his toughness and polished route running would be enough to warrant a second round grade.
San Francisco had two unquestioned starters on the outside in WR Anquan Boldin and WR Michael Crabtree, but neither were long term solutions because of age with the former and contract status with the latter. Patton was coming into a good situation if he could be patient and develop behind the two veterans.
Opportunity would come quicker than expected however, as Crabtree was lost for most of the 2013 season with an Achilles’ tear. Patton looked like he could be a candidate to replace Crabtree right away, as the rookie had a strong preseason that year. Unfortunately, the promise Patton showed during the exhibition schedule didn’t translate the to regular season, and he was injured in Week 4. He returned towards the end of the year, but saw a disappointing total of five targets overall, catching three of them for 34 yards.
The next year Patton would find himself buried on a team rich with veterans at the position. In addition to Bolden and Crabtree, the Niners went out and acquired WR Stevie Johnson and WR Brandon Lloyd in hopes of taking advantage of their rapidly closing Super Bowl window. Patton would only see one target during the first 14 games, and when he was given a bigger role late in the year, he struggled. In Week 15 against the San Diego Chargers, Patton would fumble the game away in overtime, giving the Chargers the win. He didn’t do much in the passing game either that night, bringing down two of six targets for nine yards.
Although still behind veterans Boldin and Smith in 2015, Patton was given a bigger role and saw a career highs in targets (57), receptions (30), yards (394) and scored the only touchdown of his career. While the numbers were better, it’s difficult to truly judge Patton’s performance because the Niner’s offense was a poorly coached mess for much of the season.
Now, as Patton enters his contract year, he’s finds himself at a crossroads. If Patton takes to HC Chip Kelly‘s fast paced offense, he could make himself a very valuable commodity to the 49ers and earn a new contract. If he doesn’t, there’s a chance his days in the league could be numbered, as it’s unlikely he’d stick with his current team or gain much interest from any others.
Is Patton ready to take advantage of the golden opportunity he has before him? Early reports out of camp are favorable, and it looks like he’s the front-runner to start opposite Smith on the outside. Practice is one thing though, and Patton will have to show he can be a consistent option for his quarterback on game day, and someone the 49ers can count on in their long-term plans.