The negative scouting reports on former South Carolina wide receiver Bruce Ellington read "lacks the elite speed and agility to make up for his lack of size" and "route-running is still developing" and "lack of size and speed likely limits his role at the next level playing in the slot." Throw all of that out. Whether Ellington was dishing out assists on the basketball court or extending a short catch into a highlight reel-type play in Williams-Brice Stadium, versatility is what defined his career at South Carolina and what makes him stand out as an NFL prospect.
In the second installment of our Gamecock Doppelgangers series, we look at how the versatility of Bruce Ellington will translate into success at the next level and how he stacks up to wide receivers with similar skill sets who are currently having success in the NFL.
Ellington's Skill Profile
Bruce Ellington measures at 5'9, 197 pounds and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. In the older NFL, drafting a wide receiver under six feet tall was considered a gamble. The prototypical NFL wide receiver used to be the tall, physical wideout with a 200 pound-plus frame. Players like Wes Welker, Antonio Brown and DeSean Jackson and their smaller frames have helped changed the face of today's NFL wide receiver and have paved the way for guys like Bruce Ellington to emerge as prospects.
In his first two seasons at South Carolina, Ellington served as the primary kick returner, managing roughly 23-yards a return. Ellington never quite ripped off the long touchdown runs that Gamecock fans might have hoped for, but that doesn't mean he can't have success as a return man the next level. But as we've mentioned previously, the Gamecocks' issues on special teams extend far beyond any one kick return specialist. With Ellington's combination of speed and play-making ability, getting drafted into the right special teams scheme could prove to be beneficial for Ellington and his return potential.
As a reciever, some scouts say that Ellington is undersized and struggles with contact at the line of scrimmage. They might have a point. Ellington does have a little difficulty at the beginning of his routes, thus causing criticism of his route-running, but that's where his speed and athleticism come in. The similarly-sized DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown have been able to use their seed to avoid that contact and emerge as some the NFL's premiere homerun threats at wide receiver. Ellington plays the exact same way. He realizes where his disadvantages are and takes advantage of the natural abilities he possesses to make a big play.
In three seasons in Columbia, Ellington hauled in 106 passes for 1,586 yards and 16 scores. It's hard to tell if Ellington will be able to surpass that kind of production at the next level. It all depends on what type of offense he's drafted into and how that particular system benefits a player with his skill set. Expect Ellington to fall into the middle rounds of the draft and hear his name called anywhere between the third and fifth rounds.
Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos
Emmanuel Sanders measures at 5'11, 180 pounds while running a 4.41 40-yard dash. He's two inches taller than Ellington but is a player who compares favorably to the former Gamecock's style. Sanders was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of SMU. In his four professional seasons, Sanders has proven himself to be a more and more dependable as a No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver as his career has progressed. He has yet to break the century mark in single-game receiving yards or rack up double digit-touchdowns in a season, but his production and dependability solidified him in the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense as soon as he made the 53-man active roster in 2010.
Sanders' 12.6 yards per catch average (YPC) clearly demonstrate that he can move the chains and keep an offense moving. This past offseason, Sanders inked a three-year, 15-million dollar deal with the Denver Broncos. His most productive season has probably still in front of him, as he enters the season expecting to fill the role of the departed Eric Decker. Look for Peyton Manning to look in Sanders' direction a lot more than Ben Roethlisberger did.
Expectations of Ellington coming into the NFL and hauling in 100-plus passes for 1,000-plus yards might be lofty. If we can curb our expectations and look at the big picture, Emmanuel Sanders might be a great comparison for how we see Bruce Ellington used at the next level.
Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Brown measures 5'10, 186 pounds while running a 4.47 40-yard dash and might be the most exciting player to compare with Bruce Ellington. Brown is a smaller guy who has ensconced himself as the No. 1 receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers by simply doing the little things and serving as the team's utility man.
The Steelers basically threw Brown into every facet of the offense and special teams and all he did was have success. For his career, he's averaged 9.5 yards on punt returns and an impressive 890 yards receiving in his four professional seasons, crossing 1,000-yard mark twice.
In comparison to Emmanuel Sanders, Brown has been more productive as a wide receiver and certainly leaves the door open for Bruce Ellington to have the same type of success. If Ellington is willing to show his worth by having success in the return game and special teams, it will only give his offensive coordinator ammunition to give him more looks in the receiving game.
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Hilton measures 5'9, 178 pounds while running a 4.3 40-yard dash. He's another smaller wide receiver and, in 2013, found himself competing for a top spot amongst an unproven wide receiving unit with the Indianapolis Colts. A speedster, Hilton was taken in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He entered his rookie season with minimal expectations and hauled in 17 receptions for a total of 327 yards and two touchdowns.
It was 2013 that made T.Y. Hilton a household name. After veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne went down with a season-ending ACL injury, the undersized Hilton was jettisoned to the No. 1 receiving role. Hilton caught a total 82 passes for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. If Bruce Ellington finds himself drafted into an unproven wide receiving unit, he could have the same type of success.
If teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs or Carolina Panthers come calling for Bruuuuuuce in the upcoming draft, it wouldn't be inconceivable to see Ellington have success in an offense that he's prematurely thrown into. If he's drafted into an offense with a more solidified wide receiving situation like the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers, then he's obviously got a taller ladder to climb ahead of him.
Tavon Austin, St Louis Rams
Austin measures 5'9" 174 pounds while running a 4.3 40-yard dash and is an intriguing comparison for Bruce Ellington's NFL potential.
Coming out West Virginia, Austin was not considered a polished wide receiver or running back, but it was clear that when the ball was put in his hands he could make plays. Austin wore several hats for the St. Louis Rams in his 2013 rookie season, playing a key role on special teams while serving as the both the primary kick returner and punt returner. He also finishing the season as the third leading receiver, hauling in 40 passes for 418 yards and four touchdowns.
The return game is where Austin truly shined. He averaged 8.5 yards on punt returns with one score and 22 yards per kick return. Austin even carried the ball nine times for a staggering 151 yards (16.8 yard average) and one touchdown. The Rams took full advantage of Austin's versatility by using him in so many facets of the game.
While we bid adieu to perhaps one of the biggest fan favorites in Gamecock football history, the future remains bright for Bruce Ellington. As fans, we can only hope that an NFL team recognizes his abilities like Steve Spurrier did at South Carolina. Whether it was channeling the former state championship quarterback in him or whether it was dialing up a bubble screen knowing that Bruce would move the chains, the Head Ball Coach knew what he was going to get. If a coach with the same offensive imagination -- like Chip Kelly, Pete Carroll or Jay Gruden -- snags Ellington in the draft, Gamecock fans will not be disappointed.
The 2014 NFL Draft begins Thursday May 8th at 8 p.m. and we'll have you covered in all facets of the draft and where your favorite Gamecocks will land.