It has been 10 years since the San Francisco 49ers made current free-agent WR Brandon Lloyd their fourth-round pick (No. 124) in the 2003 NFL Draft. A player that was on the brink of breaking all major Illinois’ receiving records had he not declare early for the draft, Lloyd finished his college career ranking second on the school’s all-time list in both receiving yards (2,583) and touchdowns (21). To put those numbers in perspective, last season’s first-round pick (No. 30) WR A.J. Jenkins ranked fourth on the school’s all-time list in receiving yards (2,432) and third in touchdowns (19) despite playing one extra season. So with so much potential riding on a Big Ten wide receiver, why did the 49ers trade him after only three seasons? One answer may have been his attitude.
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Former 49ers head coach Mike Nolan being from the old school, became increasingly frustrated with Lloyd’s lack of work ethic during film study. A growing problem that was also brewing inside the 49ers locker room as FB Fred Beasley and RB Kevan Barlow often voiced their displeasure for their leading receiver, Lloyd simply worn out his welcome and was traded to the Washington Redskins. A move that was bittersweet to me considering Lloyd was the Niners leading receiver at the time with 48 receptions for 733 yards and five touchdowns, Lloyd left the 49ers no choice but to cut ties with their top receiving threat. And although Lloyd was my favorite player, I understood why the trade took place.
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It did not take long for Lloyd to bump heads with Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs, as the legendary coach also sent Lloyd to the doghouse after one season, due to his poor work ethic and questionable attitude. After only two seasons in Washington and limited playing time, Lloyd was released by the team. Many people started to question how a once promising player with Pro Bowl potential was barely mustering a roster spot. But that was reality, and Lloyd needed to mature if he wanted any part of the NFL.
After bouncing around with the Chicago Bears, Lloyd finally settled with the Denver Broncos in 2009. A quarterback he had built rapport with while playing in Chicago, Lloyd decided to sign on with the AFC West Broncos and reunite with QB Kyle Orton. And the move proved to be the right one.
In 2010, Lloyd had a career season as he led all NFL receivers in yardage with a whopping 1,448 yards. In addition, Lloyd also racked up 11 touchdowns while registering an incredible 18.8 yards per catch average. Aside from the gaudy stats, Lloyd would later be named to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro team (2nd). However, the success in Denver would be short lived as Lloyd was again on the trading block and shipped out to the St. Louis Rams per his request, as Lloyd said:
This had nothing to do with Tim (Tebow)…I think this move creates the space for Denver to really find out what they want to do with the organization and the same thing for me. It puts me in a situation where maybe a team will want to look at me long-term or maybe I can fill a void for a season for St. Louis and get those guys back on track.
Whatever the reasoning behind Lloyd’s trade demands, he was again finding himself playing for another city. After a one year stint in St. Louis, Lloyd teamed up with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick last season. A move that was intriguing considering Belichick is a modern day Bill Walsh, Lloyd would have his best season since his Pro Bowl days, as he recorded 74 receptions for 911 yards and four touchdowns. Respectable statistics considering Lloyd was likely the third option behind WR WesWelker and TE Rob Gronkowski. So with Lloyd on the free-agent wire, should the 49ers acquire his services? Why not?
For one, Lloyd can instantly turn an uncatchable ball into a ESPN Top 10 play. Time and time again you will see Lloyd make tough catches look easy. Whether it is out jumping defensive backs or hauling in a one-handed reception, Lloyd has the hand-eye coordination to make an instant impact. When Nolan was coaching the Niners he admittedly spoke on Lloyd’s ability to make plays with his hands away from his body, saying:
He’s got some of the best hands you’ll see, and he does make plays.
Another reason the 49ers should consider Lloyd is to add an insurance policy in case Jenkins is injured or not living up to his potential. Sure, Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh says Jenkins is having some of the best practices of his life, but again it’s practice. Like Allen Iverson says, “It’s practice man!” And until Jenkins steps onto the field against the Green Bay Packers for the season opener, only then can we determine if he is capable of holding down the No. 2 receiver spot. Anyone can be a good “practice player,” the question remains can he be a “gamer.” We all know Lloyd can bring it, can Jenkins? Only time will tell.
Aside from being a sure handed receiver and a possible insurance policy, Lloyd should be added due to his football IQ. If you watch Lloyd’s route running you will often see him find soft spots in zones. And while he doesn’t possess elite speed, Lloyd has the innate ability to get defensive backs off their game with his fluid route running, evident by killing the 49ers secondary with 10 catches for 190 yards in last season’s match-up.
With the Niners already having a young core of receivers, adding Lloyd may not be so bad considering he still has the skill to be a 1,000 yard threat.
Ryan is the Founder/Editor-in-chief of NinerFans.com and member of Pro Football Writers of America. Born and raised in San Jose, he also graduated from San Diego State University. His work has been featured on NFL Network, KNBR 680, National Football Post, mlive, FanSided Network, and NBC Bay Area News. For more information, please contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (408) 622-0996.