Carolina Panthers Backyard Ballers: USC's WR Bruce Ellington

Backyard Baller: Bruce Ellington 

In this series' initial installment, I took a look at Clemson's offensive lineman Brandon Thomas and how he may project to the NFL, but the recent bad news on him is that he tore his ACL in training.

Now, we move to in-state rival University of South Carolina and have a look at one of the "other" players on their roster....someone whose last name doesn't rhyme with "frowney."

I did attend South Carolina's Pro Day last week, so I got to see him run his routes and catch some passes from QB Connor Shaw, so at least I did get an unfettered view of him in a comparison with his fellow WRs and the guy did stand out with crisp routes in general and smooth in his cuts.

That said, you have to give anyone's game tape a lot more weight than a few "backyard" pass patterns in shorts and a t-shirt without defenders. That was about the only drill he did, positional or otherwise, that I was able to see very well. There were literally hundreds and hundreds of other people all over the field.

We all know about Jadeveon Clowney, undoubtedly the premier athlete at ANY position in this year's NFL draft. In fact, it has been a number of years since such a freakish, productive college football player has entered his name into the hat for the next level.

But football is a team sport - again, as we all know - and several Gamecocks have been slowly but surely creeping up the draft board since the NFL combine.

Ellington is one of those guys.

First, let's review his vitals: He's only 5'9" but weighs in at 197 lbs, making him a very solidly-built young man very reminiscent of ex-Carolina Panther Captain Munnerlyn (5'8" 195 lbs.).

Bruce ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, demonstrating very good speed for the position. He recorded 15 bench press repetitions at 225 lbs, showing very nice strength for a wide receiver prospect which puts a number of sorts on his frame and his strength for his stature. With a 39 1/2 inch vertical jump, ten feet even on the broad jump, a sub-4 seconds in the short shuttle and a very quick 6.69 seconds in the 3-cone, he shows agility equal  to his strength and speed.

Put this all together, and he compares well to another ex-Panther named Steve Smith.

Usually, smaller guys like Ellington (or Smitty) are relegated to the slot at the NFL level, but Ellington's strength may mean he's an exception to that general rule. It all depends on what team and system he finds himself in.

With that in mind, let's take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.

One strength is just that - his strength and his frame. He has a thick body and very strong legs, which would explain his prowess in his measurables at the combine. He uses his strength and has a few moves to get off the line of scrimmage, which tells me it's quite possible he could play on the outside in the NFL.

He's also a pretty good route-runner who stays under control throughout his pattern and has a great nose for the ball. He tracks it extremely well in-flight, can adjust when needed, and plays bigger than his 5'9" size would suggest as he has great hand-eye coordination to get the ball at the high point - just like Smitty did in his heyday.

Bruce is one of those smaller guys who does have very good ability to make the catch and run for additional yardage. With his quickness and agility he can make defenders miss and his acceleration will help him get up the field for additional gains, but he does lack that "high gear" to pull away from defenders. However, that's often enough to get to the endzone if in the open field.

Ellington was also the starting point guard for the basketball team which should tell you he's very quick as well. His older brother is Andre Ellington, a rookie for the Arizona Cardinals in 2013 who was known for his burst and receiving ability out of the backfield, so Bruce's pedigree is there as well.

He's also a very good kick returner - something not all small, fast WRs or CBs have a knack for. It adds to his value for any team for sure as you can never have too many good ones. His ability to run after the catch goes hand in hand with his ability as a kick returner and just highlights his overall athleticism. He has very good hands and that should immediately separate him from the likes of....*gulp*...a draft bust like Joe Adams.

Some of his weaknesses are more obvious, or predictable off of his short stature. He wasn't asked to do everything as a WR at South Carolina, so he will need to be coached up in the NFL on the entire route tree. As a smaller receiver, he would rely on his acceleration to get open but NFL corners are going to have that similar burst so he will have to be taught proper techniques to use in order to create separation in the NFL. Bruce is part-way there, as he was good at getting off the line of scrimmage in college, but will need to build heavily upon that at the NFL level to become a consistent receiving threat.

As such, it'll take time developing chemistry with his NFL QB, whoever it is, and get more consistent with his moves and timing to become that reliable receiver. Early on, he may be limited to the slot as he learns the route tree and the tools he needs to work the outside.

One big negative he has for the Carolina Panthers specifically is his lack of run-blocking prowess. It's a very overlooked area by most casual fans, but in some offenses (especially Carolina's) WRs that can run-block are coveted.

If you'll recall DeAngelo Williams' 74-yard screen pass catch-and-run for a TD against the New York Jets last season, Williams needed one downfield block to spring him to the endzone. That block was thrown around the Jets' 35 yard Brandon LaFell.

Ellington, on the other hand, doesn't have that "edge" in run-blocking and doesn't extend his arms and get a good punch on his target in this regard.

In the NFL as a comparison, think of Randall Cobb - an undersized WR/KR who took a couple of seasons to really hit his stride and Ellington is going to need time to learn to properly run the entire route-tree before he could seriously be compared to Cobb, but his frame and athletic ability are similar as rookies. Cobb improved in critical areas he needed to. If Ellington can do the same, he could become as dangerous as Cobb is, assuming everything falls into line and he develops as well as Cobb did.

Once he enters the NFL and his attention will be on football instead of being divided between it and basketball, his athletic ability and intelligence should all be strong points in helping him get to where he needs to be...I just wouldn't expect him to come in and be a thousand-yard receiver as a rookie.

One thing that is notable: he had career highs in the biggest game of his career - the Capital One Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers. He had 139 yds receiving....and three touchdowns.

Overall, Ellington has an outstanding work ethic and I feel like that's going to be what makes him a big success down the road in the NFL. He'll put in the time, sweat, and studying to perfect his craft. He also has already graduated from South Carolina, underscoring his smarts.

I can see why his draft stock has been on the rise ever since he showed off his talents at the NFL Combine. Now that people have looked into him past the numbers, they find a very smart young man who should have a career that's closer to his projected ceiling than a bust due to his off-the-charts intangibles.      

While I don't see him going in the top two rounds, he could be a nice pick near the end of the third round for the Panthers and it would be a crime if he's still there in the 4th and the Panthers pass him up.

After all....the 4th round was where the aforementioned bust Joe Adams was taken. Speaking of Adams, if the Panthers select Davante Adams of Fresno State over Ellington, with both on the board, that will really make me question their scouting and/or their reasoning. During my research I have noticed Davante rated higher, but Ellington seems to have a much better skill-set and is a better athlete...he only lacks height (where Davante Adams is 6'1") but Davante was catching passes from Derek Carr, possibly the most physically talented QB in this year's draft class.

When you watch the draft or read about it later, see which of those two guys gets drafted first and if D. Adams goes first, make note of the team that took him. I'll be willing to bet you it's a perennial losing team that does it if it should happen.  

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

(S.C Pro Day: Ellington is #23)