TSO Report: San Francisco 49ers WR - Bruce Ellington

 Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

Photo Credit: Scott Strazzante, The Chronicle

There are some players whose talent transcends their surroundings and situation (Adrian Peterson). Unfortunately for 99% of players that is not the case. That's where the Talent, Situation and Opportunity Report comes in. The TSO Report puts an individual under the microscope and analyzes that player through three different lenses to determine their fantasy outlook:

Talent: What does the player bring to the table? Do they have any trump cards? Will an area of weakness prevent the player from reaching their potential?

Situation: Will the player be used correctly? Are they an integral part of a good offense? Do they fit the offensive scheme well? Is the arrow pointing up or down for the offense?

Opportunity: Where do they sit on the depth chart? Do they have a role carved out in their offense? Are they stuck behind an elite talent?

Background:

Name: Bruce Ellington

Height: 5'9"

Weight:  197 LBS

College: South Carolina

Drafted: 4th Round, 104th Overall by San Francisco in 2014

Experience: 3rd Season

2015 Season Stats: 13 Rec, 19 Targets, 153 Yards, 11.8 YPC, 0 TD

Talent:

The 4th round pick in the 2014 draft out of South Carolina has mostly made a name for himself as a return specialist during his first two years in the league. Ellington is a little known commodity around the NFL because of this but don't be fooled. Ellington is one of the more dynamic athletes in the NFL who is just waiting to be unleashed.

To show how remarkable of an athlete Ellington is I compared him to some of the more high profile WR's from his draft class. You'll see he compares well and has the highest SPARQ score. SPARQ (Speed, Power, Agility, Reaction and Quickness) is a methodology designed to measure athleticism. Clearly his career isn't in the same company as his counterparts but it'll give you a general idea of his untapped potential and upside.

It's also fun to mention that Ellington was the starting point guard of the Gamecocks basketball team and is the cousin of Cardinals RB, Andre Ellington. Obviously he has the athletic chops but how does it translate to the football field? Lets take a look below.

In his limited opportunities in the preseason and regular season Ellington has proven he can be a playmaker at the NFL level. Ellington shows off his sensational burst in the open field and even runs with great balance and low center of gravity. This allows him to breeze through glancing blows and shed defenders despite his diminutive size. Another endearing quality of Ellington's is that he's not afraid to play with a brash physicality, with and without the ball.

It's great to be a special athlete and all but it's even more important to see how a player stacks up against some of the best in the game. Ellington was only in on 14% of the Niners offensive snaps this past year but thankfully I was able to find a couple examples of Ellington squaring up with some of the better young defensive backs in the NFL. Below, Ellington beats Los Angeles Rams DB, Trumaine Johnson, and Detroit Lions DB, Darius Slay, with ease on vertical routes.

Ellington has also shown the ability to work the middle of the field on post, curls and crossing routes.

The more I watched of Ellington the more I came away impressed. Ellington still showed the package of skills that earned him my #12 WR ranking in that prolific 2014 class. He's still a headache to bottle up in the open field while showing ability to get on top of defenses. Ellington is likely destined to be a slot WR in the NFL, but he has the ability win on the inside and outside at the NFL level.

Although a passing game is better off not flowing through a player like Ellington, he still has all the talent to become a key cog in an NFL offense, the same way Julian Edelman, Randall Cobb and Jarvis Landry have become for their respective teams.

Situation:

To wrap your head around why I would even feel the need the write an article on a player who has 19 career receptions entering his third season in the league you'll need to understand the situation he is now being thrust into.

The arrival of Chip Kelly turns the lethargic 49ers offense into one of the more uptempo attacks in the NFL. During Chip Kelly's 3 years in Philadelphia the Eagles averaged 1,094 plays per year. In contrast, the 49ers averaged 979 plays during that time. The 115 play difference per season equates to an extra 1.68 games worth of plays in a Chip Kelly offense.

The cast of characters in San Francisco is an ugly bunch but thankfully fantasy football doesn't discriminate. The increase in plays creates more attempts, carries and receptions for all parties involved. There will be value in this offense. Who will be a worthwhile fantasy asset outside of Torrey Smith and Carlos Hyde, who knows? But there is one player who you should target later in your drafts.

Of course, that player would be Bruce Ellington who was working with the 1st team as the slot WR in OTA's. If Chip Kelly's play calling is anything similar to years past, Ellington has a chance to be an integral piece of the Niners passing attack. In 2015, the Eagles essentially ran their passing game through their slot WR, Jordan Matthews, who was targeted 128 times. That rate of 8 targets per game was good for 19th best in the NFL. Sandwiched between fantasy studs Brandin Cooks and Dez Bryant.

While 2015 shows the upside that the slot WR role can have in a Chip Kelly offense the 2014 version of the Eagles offense more closely resembles the current 49ers personnel. When the Eagles offense was flying high it was powered by the running game and vertical passing attack. Carlos Hyde isn't Shady McCoy but he's a talented back in his own right. Torrey Smith will occupy the X-Receiver role and will present Chip Kelly with a deep threat that he lacked in 2015. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin both had career years in this role which bodes well for Torrey Smith, who was dud his first year in the bay. In 2014, Jordan Matthews again held down the slot WR position and finished with 103 targets for 67 receptions, 872 yards and 8 TD. Good for WR24 in standard leagues.

Chip Kelly's offense is all about spacing and that same philosophy translates to getting his athletes the ball in space. One of the trademarks of the passing game is getting the ball out quick. Jordan Matthews more times than not was running a simple crossing route. Be it a drag or slant. Matthews finished 8th among Wideouts in 2015 in YAC (Yards After Catch). He was 19th among Wideouts in 2014. We've seen how dynamic Ellington can be in space. This plays directly into his skill set.

The major question surrounding the Niners this year is who will win the the QB battle between Colin Kapernick and Blaine Gabbert? Fans understandably don't have much faith in either but let me remind you that Chip Kelly made Nick Foles a Pro Bowl QB. In 2013, Foles threw for 27 TD and 2 INT and had the 3rd highest passer rating in NFL history (119.2). It might not be pretty at times, as we saw in 2014 and 2015, but there is always production.

Opportunity:

With the departure of Anquon Boldin the 49ers now find themselves battling the Cleveland Browns for worst receiving corps in the NFL. Outside of Torrey Smith, only Jerome Simpson has more than 50 career receptions and he hasn't been relevant since 2013. Quinton Patton has yet to carve out a role in his first few years in the league and there are also a couple newcomers to take note of. Aaron Burbridge is a rookie out of Michigan State who is likely just a possession receiver at the next level. 6'4" Eric Rogers was just signed from the CFL and is an intriguing talent but is unproven in his own right.  Bruce Ellington is really the only one who profiles as your prototypical slot WR.

It's also important to note that Kelly typically has three wideouts on the field at a time. According to Jon Moore of RotoViz, who also wrote an outstanding piece on Ellington, the Eagles used 3 WR sets on 69% of plays, compared to the 49ers who used that personnel 41% of the time in 2015. So again there is plenty of opportunity to go around and Bruce Ellington seems lined up to capitalize on it.

Since February there has a been a steady drum beat that Chip Kelly was intrigued with Bruce Ellington's skill set and he has every reason to be. Ellington can play inside and outside as a WR. He has some experience playing out of the backfield and has even shown off his arm a few times in college. I wouldn't be surprised if Chip possibly pulled that trick out of his bag this year. In a San Francisco Bee article dated February 26th, Kelly was quoted as saying, "When you look at just the short time that I've seen just film of him you're like, 'Wow - that kid can do some interesting things. Then its our job to figure out how we can use that to help us win games."

But again, what kind of opportunity are we looking at? Well for starters, 158 targets open up with the departures of Boldin, Vernon Davis, Reggie Bush and Jarryd Hayne.

Now, what about those additional 115 plays that we mentioned earlier? Well if the 49ers pass at the same clip the Eagles did last year (60%), and considering the Niners will likely have the same negative pass heavy game scripts this coming year it's realistic, then that adds an additional 69 targets that will be spread around. That brings the unaccounted for target total up to 227. I'd expect Torrey Smith to get upwards of 120 target this coming year. That's almost doubles his total from 2015. Even with factoring that in there is still so much opportunity for the taking in this passing game.

Outlook:

Look, we're a month or so away from finding out what the 49ers really having in store for Ellington but he has all the ingredients for a breakout season. According to FantasyPros.com, Ellington currently doesn't have an ADP and is listed as WR79. If you're drafting in the coming weeks I suggest taking the leap of faith and using one of your last picks on Ellington. You should be looking for upside in the 2nd half of your draft and Ellington fits that profile.

The best way I can sell it to you is by asking what if I told you there was a WR with the athleticism of Odell Beckham Jr, the skill-set of Randall Cobb, slated to be the slot WR in a Chip Kelly offense? Does that intrigue you now? Is that worth a late round pick instead of taking a washed up vet like James Jones? I think so.

Ellington checks off all the boxes and I'm looking forward to that drum beat getting louder and louder as the season approaches. If nothing else at least Wisconsin fans can attest that given the opportunity to be an integral piece of an offense Bruce Ellington can be lethal. 

(In his final collegiate game Bruce Ellington had 6 receptions for 140 yards and 2 TD's. He also threw for one score on his way to guiding South Carolina to victory in the 2014 Capital One Bowl.)