The results are in from the San Francisco 49ers’ OTA’s, and the feedback on WR Quinton Patton was stellar.
With WR Anquan Boldin (working out on his own) and WR Bruce Ellington (hamstring injury) not practicing with the team, Patton took advantage of his opportunity to get snaps with the starters. The third year veteran made big plays, and finally gave some indication that he could live up to the promise he showed during his collegiate career.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@SakamotoRyan) May 21, 2015
A community college transfer, Patton took off immediately at Louisiana Tech, gaining 2,594 yards and scoring 24 touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons. Many believed that Patton was a steal for the 49ers when they selected him in the fourth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and that he could challenge for playing time right away. ESPN’s Todd McShay thought the wideout was a borderline first round talent, and said some compared him to Indianapolis Colts’ star WR Reggie Wayne.
The momentum began to build during the 2013 preseason, as Patton looked elusive and seemed to be gaining a report with QB Colin Kaepernick. With WR Michael Crabtree sidelined for most of season with an Achilles’ injury, the opportunity for someone to step up along side Boldin was there for the taking.
Despite the need for another receiver, Patton was invisible over the first four games of the regular season. He injured his foot in Week 4, and wouldn’t return to the field until Week 16. To his credit, Patton made an enormous 29-yard reception in the final contest of the season, setting up a game winning field goal against the Arizona Cardinals. That would be one of only three catches in his rookie year.
2014 was just as frustrating for Patton, as he found himself inactive for most of the campaign, unable to earn snaps over the likes of Boldin, Crabtree, WR Stevie Johnson and WR Brandon Lloyd. He would see action late in the year, but again only managed three receptions overall.
So given what we’ve seen (or haven’t seen) from Patton so far, why would one strong OTA showing give hope that he’s ready to break out?
Well for one, there’s a new coaching staff in town. For all of things that Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman did well, getting young players involved on offense was not one of them. With regular looks, Patton could become an asset.
Patton was only targeted 13 times in 10 career games, and only once during the first four games of 2013 when the team desperately needed to identify another play maker. Who did those early targets go to instead? Well, FB Bruce Miller had 11, and the ineffective WR Kyle Williams had 19. Neither are game breakers by any stretch of the imagination but they were known commodities to the staff.
Also playing against Patton was the fact that the Roman and the offense didn’t always do the best job of getting everyone involved. In 2013, 49ers’ players were targeted 411 times in the passing game. 213 of them went (52 percent) to either Boldin (129) or TE Vernon Davis (84). The next closest player to Davis in targets was Miller at 36.
Looking closer, 49er quarterbacks threw for 3,210 yards in 2013, and the Boldin/Davis combination combined for 2,029 of that (63 percent). They also caught 20 of the team’s 21 receiving touchdowns.
Even with a deeper core in 2014, only Boldin and Crabtree averaged more than 3.8 targets a game, and that duo combined for 52 percent of the team’s receptions. No other player averaged more than 2.5 catches a game.
Considering the trends that worked against him in 2013-14, Patton’s biggest ally in 2015 may simply be opportunity. While Boldin and newcomer WR Torrey Smith are the unquestioned starters, new OC Geep Cryst should still look to employ different packages and formations to get players like Patton (and Ellington) involved. After all, it’s about time we see what players like Patton are capable of, and the only way to do that is to get them on the field.