SANTA CLARA — The 49ers lost Bruce Ellington (torn hamstring) for the entire season on Tuesday. Ellington was expected to be a productive slot receiver in Chip Kelly’s offense. Some had pegged the 25-year-old for a breakout year.
This is devastating news for what is already one of the most talent-depleted offenses in the NFL.
And it’s a reminder that GM Trent Baalke’s refusal to address the wide receiver position is directly harming the production of this football team.
An unbelievable 25 wide receivers were taken in the 2016 NFL Draft before Baalke turned in the card on Michigan State product Aaron Burbridge with pick No. 213 in the sixth round. Baalke was burnt by first round pick A.J. Jenkins in 2012, and ever since, has ignored the position in the early rounds of the draft.
This was after refusing to re-sign Anquan Boldin or even sniff around at free agents Marvin Jones, Travis Benjamin or Mohammad Sanu. The 49ers have enough cap room to swim in it, yet Baalke wouldn’t entertain lowball offers to Mike Wallace, Brandon LaFell or Rishard Matthews — all who could walk into Santa Clara and start Week 1.
If you don’t have a firm quarterback situation, the least a GM can do is supply reliable receivers. The 49ers have just one of those in Torrey Smith, and they’re requiring the deep threat to play the role of the No. 1 receiver. That’s like asking Klay Thompson to play point guard for the Warriors. Kelly is forced to play Smith out of position because he has no other resources. The refrigerator is empty.
Quinton Patton (36 career receptions in three NFL seasons) is thrust into a role above his skill set, and after that, the 49ers’ wide receiver depth chart plummets beneath the ground. It’s been hard to even distinguish between the trio of Dres Anderson, DeAndre Smelter and DeAndrew White — all three fliers don’t have a lick of NFL experience and have barely produced against backups in the preseason. Canadian football league star Eric Rogers is out for the season and training camp surprise Bryce Treggs is out for an undisclosed amount of time with an MCL injury. A trade for well-traveled slot receiver Jeremy Kerley is San Francisco’s lone hope for consistency at receiver. Baalke even cut Jerome Simpson, a talented player who many beat reporters thought could actually turn into a hidden gem within Kelly’s system.
Just like the Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick conundrum, Baalke created this mess. You can’t totally ignore two positions on the football field and pray both units magically improve. God forbid if Carlos Hyde suffers another concussion, this could be a historically bad offense, one that could get punched on The Jimmy Fallon show like the Cleveland Browns so often do.
When the wide receivers struggle to adapt to much bigger roles than their capable of this season, remember it’s Trent Baalke who’s at fault. Chip Kelly can’t be expected to cook some elaborate meal when he’s missing half the groceries. Building up the trenches has been the embattled GM’s philosophy in recent offseason’s, but it clearly doesn’t equal points on the scoreboard. Instead, Baalke hoped a hodgepodge group of receivers would magically become reliable NFL players overnight. Brilliant.
If and when the 49ers implode on offense, somebody is going to have to pay the price. Baalke’s sins at the wide receiver position could ultimately end up being his undoing.