SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers waited until the fourth round Saturday to add the speedy vertical threat to their passing game that many expected them to grab near the top of the NFL draft.
Two-sport star Bruce Ellington may prove worth the wait.
The 49ers selected the South Carolina product with the 106th overall pick in the fourth round, bringing to San Francisco an explosive prospect that will challenge for a regular role in the team’s passing game behind starters Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree.
San Francisco’s top priorities entering the draft were filling voids at wide receiver and cornerback. The 49ers didn’t address those two positions during the first three rounds.
But they focused on those positions Saturday, selecting cornerbacks Dontae Johnson of North Carolina State, Keith Reaser of Florida Atlantic and Kenneth Acker of Southern Methodist with three of their next four picks after Ellington.
“You let the board talk to you,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “That was something that we did today, and we also let some of the needs that we have on our team do some talking to us as well.”
South Florida defensive end Aaron Lynch was selected in the fifth round before Reaser. The 49ers selected another defensive end, Boston College’s Kaleb Ramsey, in the seventh round before taking Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard two selections later to complete their 12-player draft class.
But the key catch of the day was Ellington. The 49ers always are on the lookout for athletes in the draft, and Ellington displayed his merit in college on both the football field and basketball court, where he was a three-year starter at point guard.
He also was a two-year starter at wide receiver for the Gamecocks after not playing football as a freshman. But as Ellington developed on the gridiron, he determined his future as a professional was there. He led South Carolina last season in receptions (49), receiving yards (775) and touchdown receptions (8) while averaging 15.8 yards per catch.
“I finally realized football is what I want to do,” Ellington said. “It was pretty difficult because I love to compete and I love playing both sports. They just told me to come in here and be ready to compete. I’m going to be ready to do that and ready to come in and help build the program even better than what it is now.”
Ellington brings to San Francisco’s program the field-stretching speed and athletic burst the 49ers are looking to add to an attack that ranked 30th in the NFL last season in passing offense.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.45 seconds at the NFL combine. He also had a vertical leap of 39.5 inches.
“You don’t play two sports and major college football at the level he did without having something special about you,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “He’s a skilled athlete. He’s a competitive athlete. He’s a smart and instinctive athlete. If you put all that together, you’ve got a pretty good package.”
Harbaugh said he got a special recommendation for Ellington from his brother-in-law, Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean. Baalke later said, “Coach Crean said we probably have the best point guard in the National Football League.”
The 49ers have been seeking a legitimate speed element in their passing game since Harbaugh arrived to coach the team in 2011. That component was sorely lacking most of last season, when Crabtree missed the first 11 games after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in May.
San Francisco was expected to use one or more of its early selections on a wide receiver. But after signing veteran Brandon Lloyd during the offseason and trading a 2015 draft pick to Buffalo on Friday to acquire veteran Stevie Johnson, the 49ers instead finally tapped the position on the draft’s final day.
“I know those guys can play, and I’m going to learn from them,” Ellington said. “They’re going to help me become a better player. I feel like I have a lot of growth because I’ve only played (receiver) for three years. There’s a lot more things that I can put in my game and become a better player.”
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