The San Francisco 49ers have to be feeling a little more comfortable about their wide receiver situation after the preseason emergence of Quinton Patton.
Held out of the first two 49ers preseason games due to a broken finger on his left hand, Patton was finally able to make his debut with San Francisco last Sunday in the team's third preseason matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. He did not disappoint.
Patton's impressive debut, combined with the questionable situation San Francisco faces at the position, begs a question: Will Patton emerge as the team's second wide receiver?
In all likelihood, the answer is still no at this point.
There are still a number of other receivers who are vying for that spot. A number of them, like incumbent 49er Kyle Williams and former Indianapolis Colts receiver Austin Collie, have practical NFL experience. Patton, on the other hand, is yet to go through the rigors of a full NFL season.
The fact that Patton is a rookie also lends credence to the fact that he will have a steep learning curve over the course of his first NFL season. He will be forced to continue learning the offense and translate his skills, so apparent at the collegiate level, into something useful with the 49ers.
Yet let us examine the possibility of Patton emerging as a top candidate for the No. 2 receiver on San Francisco's depth chart. While speculating that Patton becomes the receiver opposite of obvious starter Anquan Boldin is a distant shot, one cannot rule out the situation entirely.
Initially projected by CBS Sports to be a second-round pick, Patton came to the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 draft in what CBS Sports NFL analyst Pete Prisco called an outstanding value pick. Prisco went on to state that Patton would be able to contribute immediately between Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
Shortly into organized team activities (OTAs), Crabtree suffered a torn Achilles tendon which resulted in the possibility of him missing a good portion, if not all, of the 2013 season.
Still, the route to a starting job with the 49ers was nowhere close to guaranteed. Patton would have to earn that job.
A number of other receivers stood in his way. First, there was San Francisco's 2012 first-round draft pick, A.J. Jenkins, who, after an abysmal rookie year, was expected to contribute in a much larger way in 2013.
What of the other 49ers receivers in the mix, however?
Even with Jenkins gone, San Francisco will likely continue to groom players like Baldwin. The 49ers also cannot overlook some of their other receiving contributors such as Collie, Williams and Marlon Moore.
It is possible that Moore could be the favorite to win the starting job over everyone else including Patton. Golden Gate Sports writer Turron Davenport agrees with this claim by writing:
The original candidates included Moore, Patton, Jenkins and Ricardo Lockette, but only Moore and Patton are still on the roster. Moore has gotten most of the reps with the first team offense and has seemingly secured the starting spot for now.
Moore may have also earned that position thanks to Patton's broken finger, resulting from a pass from backup quarterback Colt McCoy during training camp. While the injury may have been a setback, Patton used the opportunity to hone his football knowledge.
CSN Bay Area 49ers insider Matt Maiocco further describes this by writing:
As it turns out, perhaps, the initial setbacks actually proved to benefit the rookie wide receiver when he finally was cleared to suit up with his teammates for a game. Patton made the most of his time on the sideline during the first two weeks, as he was able to watch two live NFL games and absorb the kind of information in real time that is unavailable in a film room.
Needless to say, Patton made good use of his time.
When he finally did get his debut, Patton was impressive. In the game against the Vikings, Patton led all 49ers receivers with four receptions for 35 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown reception, from the hand of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, demonstrated Patton's ability to create space and get open, something San Francisco will need from its receiving corps this season.
Kaepernick described Patton's abilities after the game via CSN Bay Area by saying:
He is a great player. He is someone who just knows football. He knows how to get open. He knows how to make plays. I'm looking forward to see what he can do for us. He is someone that is easy to have chemistry with. He knows where the windows are in defenses. He knows how to get open.
Kaepernick's praises are a good thing for Patton. Yet we have to be realistic about the fact that a mere one game is a small sample size. True, he and Moore led all 49ers receivers with 29 snaps last Sunday, but Patton will need to prove that he has what it takes on a consistent basis.
He has already surpassed recently departed Jenkins in this regard and should be called upon again in the near future.
With that stated, San Francisco will likely take a very close look at his abilities when the 49ers take on the San Diego Chargers in their fourth, and final, preseason matchup on Thursday, August 29th.
Sports Out West writer Al Sacco projects this happening. He writes:
Patton will probably play good portion of the 49ers’ last preseason game against the San Diego Chargers and is a lock to make the final roster. If he follows up with another strong performance, he could see meaningful playing time in week one against the Green Bay Packers. Patton won’t start, but the 49ers can mix him in certain packages as the rookie continues to adapt to the NFL game.
In all probability, this is the exact scenario Patton will enjoy during his rookie season. At least in the first half, Patton will probably not be counted upon to be the No. 2 guy. That job will probably fall upon either Moore or Williams when he returns healthy.
Yet if Patton continues to impress like he did against the Vikings, it is possible that San Francisco will reevaluate its receiving depth chart.
This scenario is argued by CBS Sports NFL writer Will Brinson who states, "Just for the sake of upside why not roll the dice on Patton breaking out?"
San Francisco would obviously like that to happen. How and when that happens, however, shall be determined against San Diego or once the regular season begins. From a realistic perspective, Patton will probably not be the No. 2 receiver at the outset. Once Crabtree returns, Patton's chances at starting will yet again be diminished.
That leaves a small window for Patton to emerge as the No. 2 guy. It could happen this season, especially if the 49ers do not get the production out of likely favorites like Moore and Williams. Even so, Crabtree's eventual return will force Patton down the depth chart either way.
Still, San Francisco has to be thrilled with what it has gotten out of Patton thus far and the team is certainly excited about the prospects of him having a nice rookie season. If he does, the 49ers' wide receiver situation will be that much more intact.
All we have to do is wait to see what happens.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Follow him @PeterMcshots on Twitter.
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