When the final day of the 2013 NFL draft rolled around, I was looking for some team to take a shot on Da'Rick Rogers from Tennessee Tech.
The talented young wide receiver received a first-round grade from me based purely on talent on the field, but continued to drop down the boards.
I was fairly sure the San Francisco 49ers were going to end up nabbing him in the fourth round. General manager Trent Baalke had wide receiver in mind, but went to the prospect I had rated directly below Rogers on my big board, Quinton Patton.
I had given the Louisiana Tech product a second-round grade and couldn't believe he was still available over the likes of some of the receivers that went ahead of him.
First, let's take a look at production.
|Tavon Austin||1 (8)||4||288||3,413||29|
|DeAndre Hopkins||1 (27)||3||206||3,020||27|
|Cordarrelle Patterson||1 (29)||1||46||778||5|
|Robert Woods||2 (41)||3||250||2,933||32|
|Quinton Patton||4 (128)||2||183||2,594||24|
The difference here is that those four players listed with Patton played at major schools, while he was stuck playing at Louisiana Tech. Some may look at these statistics and say he was going up against less-than-stellar competition and was a product of Tech's spread offense.
While both points are valid and do hold some ground, some of the better draft minds were able to look past this "small-school fear" when scouting specific players. How else do you explain a Central Michigan product going No. 1 overall?
Patton averaged seven receptions, 104 yards and a about one touchdown per game in college. While bordering on comparing apples to oranges, Patterson averaged under four receptions and about 65 receiving yards in one season with Tennessee.
I don't care about the level of competition; that's a marked difference in production between these two highly skilled players.
Back in April, Bleacher Report's Sigmund Bloom took a look at how Patton translates to the NFL:
Patton's ability to line up inside and outside in addition to his solid run-after-catch skills and sharp routes make him an excellent fit for a West Coast offense as a "Z" receiver.
Earlier in the article, Bloom focused on perceived strengths as they relate to Patton:
Patton can also get free deep and has excellent ball-tracking ability over his shoulder to make big plays. His body control and moves to create separation in routes are all advanced.
These fine points are indications that Patton can make an immediate impact in San Francisco, especially with Michael Crabtree apparently lost for a majority of the regular season.
If Patton's natural ability makes him a fit in the West Coast offense, as Bloom suggests, his learning curve shouldn't be too great. In addition, most young receivers tend to struggle with both route-running and body control. Those are primary reasons why rookies struggle early on at this position.
Again, that shouldn't be much of an issue for Patton.
The link in this tweet takes us to the enigmatic remark noted by Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, who provided a quote from head coach Jim Harbaugh:
There’s quite a jump with Quinton Patton from where he came in. He elevated himself.
In context, Harbaugh's quote seems to indicate that Patton has improved a great deal from when he first came in back in May. If a rookie wide receiver, in his first offseason, is able to catch the attention of the coach in that way, he's definitely doing something right.
Other reports indicate that Patton is right behind A.J. Jenkins in the competition to start opposite Anquan Boldin at wide receiver (via CSN Bay Area). As it is, both have been extremely impressive during offseason programs.
Outside of advanced route-running skills, Patton does a great job creating yards after the catch. He is stellar on bubble screens and intermediate routes, two things that are required in San Francisco's offensive scheme.
At 6'0" and 204 pounds, Patton might not be the biggest wide receiver, but he sure utilizes that frame to the best of his ability. In this, Patton reminds me a great deal of Crabtree, who is pretty much the same size (give or take an inch and a couple pounds).
Patton will be given every opportunity to win that starting gig in training camp and during preseason games. The coaching staff will definitely put him in a situation to prove that he can handle opposing cornerbacks in the NFL. This means that he's likely to go up against first-team defenses a great deal in said preseason games. After all, there isn't a whole heck of a lot that Boldin needs to prove or show us during meaningless games in August.
That's why we should fully expect both Patton and Jenkins to be on the field early and often during those four games.
One other thing to look at here is Kaepernick's arm strength. Receivers had a hard time adjusting to his velocity compared to that of Alex Smith last season. In short, there were a nice amount of dropped passes.
This won't be an issue for Patton, who was one of the most sure-handed receivers in the entire 2013 NFL draft class.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Patton beat out Jenkins, who seems to fit better in the slot. If so, Patton will not give up that starting job again. He projects to be a 1,000-yard receiver at some point in the not-so-distant future.
By acquiring his services on the third day of the draft, general manager Trent Baalke proved once again that he is a genius atop San Francisco's front office.
We are likely to see this in full evidence as Patton grows right in front of our eyes.