The San Francisco 49ers start training camp later next week, which means we’ll start to get some resolution on who will make the roster, and how the starting lineup will look come Week 1. As we come down this final stretch, I thought we’d go through some of the notable position competitions facing the 49ers in training camp. We’re going to focus primarily on starters, but we might mix in some pertinent reserve roles from time-to-time. We started things off with right tackle and inside linebacker, and today we move on to the wide receiver(s) starting opposite Torrey Smith.
The incumbent(s): Nobody
Anquan Boldin was the starter last year, and he has departed in free agency. The 49ers have numerous players who got snaps last year, including Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, and DeAndrew White. Patton got the most of that group, getting 41.8 percent of offensive snaps. Ellington was next with just 14.1 percent.
The challengers: Quinton Patton, Bruce Ellington, Jerome Simpson, DeAndrew White, Eric Rogers, DeAndre Smelter, Aaron Burbridge, Dres Anderson, DiAndre Campbell, Devon Cajuste, Bryce Treggs
Yep, there’s a whole lot of challengers alongside Patton and Ellington. The 49ers red-shirted Smelter a year ago, and all indications are that his knee is good to go. Rogers signed earlier this year after leading the CFL in all major receiving categories. Burbridge bust out in a big way his final season in Michigan State. Anderson actually got some first team reps mixed in during OTAs. Cajuste got the third most guaranteed money among the 49ers UDFAs. Treggs is getting work at returner. That’s a whole lot of options, albeit with numerous question marks.
Leader in the clubhouse: Quinton Patton
While Patton has yet to break out with the 49ers, he enters his walk season having gotten the bulk of first team wide receiver snaps during the offseason workout program. I imagine Chip Kelly and the offensive coaching staff had plenty to learn during the program, so newer additions might get a more significant opportunity in training camp. But for now, Patton is leading the way.
Contract implications: None. Smith isn’t going anywhere at this point, and most of the rest of the roster is young and and on rookie contracts.
Wild card: UDFAs Dres Anderson and Devon Cajuste seem to be two options that are down the depth chart a bit, but could surprise us. First team reps in OTAs does not mean a lot, but it’s a good sign for what the team thinks of Anderson. Cajuste is viewed by some as potentially better suited in an h-back role, but the team liked him enough to give him a sizable chunk of change.
Way too early prediction: I think Quinton Patton is the starter early in training camp, but by season’s end, Eric Rogers and Bruce Ellington both end up with more offensive snaps. Ellington seems to fit a utility role that could see him lining up at several wide receiver positions, and even in the backfield from time-to-time. DeAndre Smelter is a tough one to figure out coming off a year on the NFI list. He had a hamstring issue that cost him the three-day minicamp, but his knee seems to be in good shape. It was a fairly “basic” ACL tear, so fingers crossed he comes back fine from it. He’s got the kind of size along with Rogers that Chip Kelly likes. There’s a decent chance he too surpasses Patton on the depth chart. All that being said, we’re gonna see a ton of offensive snaps this season, so I certainly don’t think that means Patton will end up inactive before the end of the season.