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49ers roster breakdowns, 90-in-90: WR Bruce Ellington

Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). We move on to wide receiver Bruce Ellington.

Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.

2015 was another “meh” year for Bruce Ellington. He started the year with a hamstring strain, and had to get a talking to from Jim Tomsula about taking care of his body. Based on camp reports, it was no surprise that Ellington lost out to Quinton Patton for the 3rd wide receiver spot. While Patton played a career high 424 snaps, Ellington played just 143. In limited snaps Ellington caught just 13 passes for 153 yards. 28-percent of those yards came in a week 17 win against the Los Angeles Eight-and-Eights Rams.

On special teams Ellington, did not exactly provide a spark as a punt returner. His 7.2 yards per punt return would have placed him 21st, if he had enough punts to qualify. Ellington’s kick return game was much better. His average of 25.6 yards per return was good enough to put him in the top 10 amongst qualifying players.

Basic info

Age: 24
Experience: 3rd Season
Height: 5’9
Weight: 197 lbs

Cap status

Signed a four-year rookie contract with a total value of $2,694,428. In 2016 he will earn a base salary of $600,000 and his cap hit is $718,607.

Why he might improve

Bruce Ellington is an explosive athlete. His pSPARQ score, a composite metric that measures athleticism, puts him in the 91st percentile of NFL wide receivers. His score put him just above Brandin Cooks, a wide receiver that put up over 1,100 yards in a pass-happy offense. In 2015, Ellington’s athleticism helped him succeed against all manner of coverage, even if that success didn’t turn into receptions.

Matt Harmon put together a fantastic write up on Ellington’s 2015 season in his Reception Perception series. In it Harmon notes Ellington successfully beat man, zone, and press coverage at an above NFL-average rate. His 81.3-percent success rate on curl routes is matched Antonio Brown. The success rates Ellington experienced in 2015 indicate route running proficiency that will carry over into 2016.

But will Ellington get any playing time? Up until now, Ellington was the fourth wide receiver on a team that rarely used more than three. With Chip Kelly at the helm, that will change dramatically. Ellington looks to have an inside track on the slot role for a coach that uses a base formation that includes three receivers. Jordan Matthews, Kelly’s preferred slot receiver, had 103 and 126 targets in 2014 and 2015. Over the last three years the Eagles ran 114 more plays per season than the 49ers. If this were Game of Thrones, the 49ers house words would be “Targets are Coming.”

Why he might regress

While Ellington’s success rates against coverage were excellent, they were plucked from a sample of just 77 routes. A sample that small means a few successes could skew the numbers greatly, making them seem better than they are. It’s not as easy to sustain the success Ellington saw in limited play over an entire season.

Then of course there is the whole injury thing. Getting called out by your head coach because you are not taking care of your body is not a leading indicator of success. In both 2014 and 2015 Ellington strained his hamstring, missing 3 games his rookie year. Ellington also missed a college game with a hamstring injury in 2013. Three consecutive years with a soft tissue injury is certainly alarming. We can only hope that Jim Tomsula went full “Mike Singletary” and imparted the gift of player turnaround.

Odds of making the roster

Bruce Ellington is effectively a lock to make the 49ers roster in 2016. Barring injury, increased opportunity coupled with underrated skill points towards Ellington having a breakout year as the 49ers third wide receiver.

Completely subjective odds of making the roster: 100%