Eleven years ago, the 49ers drafted a receiver who would become one of the great NFL enigmas of the decade.
Underachieving for most of his career, difficult for some to deal with throughout it, receiver Brandon Lloyd nevertheless has talent. But that talent has emerged only in flashes, and only when the right coach is pressing the buttons.
The right coach turned out to be Josh McDaniels. In 2010, after generating a total of 2,370 receiving yards in seven seasons with four different teams, Lloyd racked up a league-high 1,448 yards receiving as a member of the Broncos. His quarterbacks were Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow.
The next year, after McDaniels was fired, Lloyd landed in St. Louis, where McDaniels had arrived as offensive coordinator. Lloyd accounted for 683 yards in 11 games.
The next year, McDaniels returned to New England. The Patriots signed Lloyd, and Lloyd had the second best season of his career, with 911 yards.
Coach Jim Harbaugh apparently has a knack for saying the right things to spark a dormant fire in a wideout. Harbaugh did it in 2012, supplying Randy Moss with one final burst of “I play when I wanna play.” Inevitably, Moss reverted to his old ways, moody and crabby and unhappy with his role. The 49ers managed to delay the eruption until the days preceding Super Bowl XLVII, when the media obligations overwhelm even the most secretive organizations.
It remains to be seen whether Lloyd becomes a secret weapon in San Francisco. With Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree serving as Colin Kaepernick’s primary targets, Lloyd will surely see plenty of single coverage. The real question becomes whether Lloyd can find a way to click with Kaepernick, and vice-versa.
Either way, the move provides a low risk for the 49ers. It’s our understanding that the deal pays the one-year veteran minimum to Lloyd, possibly with some incentives. While he may not be the last piece of the puzzle, his willingness to join the effort prior to the launch of the offseason program suggests that he’s serious about playing and conscientious about learning the offense and becoming a contributor.
At a time when the 49ers have been dealing with a lot more bad news than good, Lloyd’s arrival provides a thin flash of silver on the underbelly of the dark cloud that popped up in the past week over a team that otherwise has plenty of great things to look forward to in 2014, as it prepares to christen a brand-new stadium and make a run for Super Bowl title No. 6.