Each offseason, we put together a series of articles called 90-in-90, in which we take a quick look at each member of the San Francisco 49ers 90-man training camp roster. For veterans, we look at why they might improve or regress, and what kind of impact we expect in the upcoming season. For rookies, we look at the expected impact, and odds of making the roster. With the season finished, it is time to look at how we did with some of those expectations for the rookies. Thus far, we have looked at Chris Borland, Jimmie Ward, Carlos Hyde and Marcus Martin.
Today, we move on to the 49ers first fourth round pick, wide receiver Bruce Ellington. The 49ers drafted Ellington after some maneuvering down from the third round. The 49ers dealt pick No. 30 of the third round to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for a fourth (No. 6) round pick and a sixth (No. 4) round pick. They used the first pick on Ellington, and the latter pick on Kenneth Acker.
I put together both the 90-in-90 breakdown and the best case/worst case on Ellington. In both, I was not overly optimistic about a big rookie season for Ellington. From a receiver perspective, the 49ers seemed too deep for a rookie receiver to break through. From a returner perspective, he was behind LaMichael James. Of course, both things saw some change from the preseason perspective. LaMichael James was released, and the 49ers passing game struggled with consistency.
Ellington took over the kick and punt return duties full time after Week 1 once the 49ers released LaMichael James. He handled that role the rest of the season, only missing time due to injury in Weeks 10 through 13. As a returner, he was inconsistent. He finished seventh in kick return average and 13th in punt return average, among qualifying returners. However, he struggled with understanding his position on the field for returns vs. letting the ball go into the end zone. He showed improvement at times, but he will need to improve in that area considerably.
The 49ers mixed him in on offense on occasion, and he actually finished the year with two receiving touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. The team would occasionally mix him in, but it was fairly limited. He's got some solid speed, but the 49ers need to figure out some ways to better work him into the mix in 2015. He faces plenty of competition at the return position, with Trindon Holliday on the roster. And I suspect the 49ers might add a wide receiver or two this offseason. There will be plenty of competition for Ellington heading into his second season.