The San Francisco 49ers passing game was all over the place in the one year of Chip Kelly’s offense, and blame can be spread all around. The quarterbacks were inconsistent, the pass catchers struggled, the offensive line was inconsistent, and some of the play-calling was questionable.
The wide receivers rightfully got plenty of flak, but I came across an interesting statistic regarding Quinton Patton. The four-year receiver hits free agency in March coming off the most productive season of his career. That’s not exactly a high bar of course, as he finished the year with 37 receptions for 408 yards. His first two years were limited with injuries creating problems for him. In year three he had 30 receptions for 394 yards and a touchdown, but was never able to build on it this past season.
However, NFL.com has an interesting statistic regarding Patton. According to their recently released “Next Gen Stats,” Patton ranked fourth among “No. 3 receivers” in getting separation this past season. The three receivers ahead of him were Tyreek Hill, Tyler Lockett, and Chris Hogan.
Next Gen Stats are a set of statistics the NFL recently released that utilize sensors to track numerous pieces of data about every player on the field. Sensors are placed throughout the stadium to track tags placed on players' shoulder pads, charting individual movements within inches. It has been available to teams, but it is now available to fans.
The separation stat comes from the sensors measuring, “how much separation a receiver earned from the defender covering them when their quarterback threw them the ball.” It is probably not a perfect piece of information, but it is one more tool to add to our tool box in figuring out what players are doing on the field at any given moment.
Here is what NFL.com had to say about Patton’s appearance on this ranking:
Of all players on this list, Quinton Patton's place at fourth in the top 10 is the most surprising. Through four years, the 2013 fourth-round pick has just 73 career catches and has scored just once. His 2016 stat line added just 408 more yards to his resume. Nevertheless, Patton's separation numbers are intriguing, especially as his usage isn't one of a gadget player. Patton's 10.2 air yards per target are within striking distance of the 10.4 NFL average. The 2017 season will bring Patton's first opportunity to play for another NFL team, as his contract is set to expire in March. We've seen receivers like Michael Crabtree and even Steve Johnson resurrect their careers after down seasons in San Francisco within the last four years. Torrey Smith's production has also eroded while playing there. Patton's separation numbers should at least encourage another team to kick the tires and see if they can deploy him as a useful rotational receiver.
The 49ers will be rebuilding most of the roster, including the wide receiver corps. Patton joins Jeremy Kerley and Rod Streater as free agents in March. Without a head coach or general manager in place yet, we don’t really know what to expect in terms of free agents. We can make some guesses based on Kyle Shanahan potentially ending up with control of the 53-man roster, but for now, it’s mostly guess-work.