Quinton Patton had a nice debut for the San Francisco 49ers in their third preseason game. He showed exactly why the team was high on him in organized team activities and throughout training camp. Some scouts I talked to felt he was a polished receiver that’s ready to make an impact.
A group of receivers were thrown into the mix to compete for the starting spot vacated by Michael Crabtree, who went down with an Achilles injury and will be out until at least November. The original candidates included Marlon Moore, Patton, A.J. 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. Patton may have made a move on the starting position, but after breaking his middle finger while catching a throw from Colt McCoy, the rookie could only run routes in team activities and wasn’t able to show off his hands.
I was quite surprised Patton dropped to the fourth-round in the draft. The 49ers were very fortunate to get such an impactful player that late. Some things that stood out to scouts showed up in the 49ers latest preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Patton proved capable of getting off the line of scrimmage. He did a great job of repositioning the corner so he could get an inside release and get open. He did this by giving a hard step to the outside and getting the corner to commit. Once his hips were turned, Patton had him beat.
As receivers, we have a saying; “If I’m even, I’m leaving!”
Patton was able to get even with the corner and put him on his back hip as Colin Kaepernick made the throw to him for his first catch as a pro, a 19-yard gain.
Watch how easily Patton sets up his routes. He does a great job of stemming his routes all the same; making it harder for corners to diagnose which route he’s running until it’s too late. The 23-year-old rookie has a thorough understanding of route concepts.
With more playing time, you’ll see the quality of Patton’s fade routes, always giving the three to five-yard cushion necessary to adjust to a ball in the air, which offers his quarterback more room to work with on the sideline. Cushion also allows for room on back-shoulder throws.
Most receivers coming out of college haven’t mastered this critical concepts. He does an excellent job selling routes with his head fakes. His 4.48 40-yard-dash time isn’t elite, but Patton will get behind plenty of defensive backs.
There are plenty of subtle things receivers can do within their routes helping them get open, even against the fastest corners. Post and corner routes are good examples. An explosive release instantly threatens the defensive back that must maintain his cushion, but as a receiver closes in the corner is forced to open his hips to the outside, or turn inside and run with the receiver, trying to keep his cushion.
A good receiver looks a corner in the eye while running towards him, glancing in the opposite direction just before sticking his foot in the ground to make his break, redirecting the corner. This is how a receiver can sell a route with his eyes. Head fakes are another useful tool, as is leaning in the opposite direction, which we see on post routes. Receivers lean outside before making a sharp break back inside. Done correctly, this technique will turn the defensive back around.
Obviously, NFL defensive backs are aware of all this — that’s when double move comes into play.
Patton demonstrated this while at Louisiana Tech, catching a great post route for a touchdown against Illinois. The 49ers will hope to duplicate this if he’s ever lined up in the slot opposite safety in man coverage.
Patton drew comparisons to Reggie Wayne coming out of college. A high compliment, but the similarities are there. Both are good route-runners and pure hands catchers. Neither has blazing speed but both can get deep. Patton’s touchdown against the Vikings showed his understanding of the game.
Originally on a slant route, Patton continued across his quarterback’s face while Colin Kaepernick went through his progressions, the rookie realized he had his defender beat, making the catch as he throttled down before running into the next defender.
Plays like that will help him get an opportunity, and he has the right attributes to succeed. Patton’s go-getter mentality is key to being a legit receiver. He’s energetic, showing he belongs, and he just gave the 49ers a taste of what they were hoping for when they drafted him. He’ll only get better as the season goes on so be sure to keep an eye on this young impactful player.
There’s good reason to be excited about Quinton Patton.