SANTA CLARA, Calif. - While the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their upcoming opponents on their practice field, one player has been working diligently on his conditioning and rehabilitation on the artificial turf field right a few yards to the west.
Rookie receiver DeAndre Smelter, who opened the year on the reserve/non-football injury list, is early in the process of getting back to playing shape, with the hope of being added to the 53-man roster at some point later this season.
"I’m at a good spot to be right now, taking things slow the way I should," Smelter said.
He's regularly running sprints, pulling chains and upping the intensity of his workouts. But he also has been working on his route running, and making one-handed catches with his massive 11-inch hands.
However, one-handed grabs aren't something he focuses on like Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
"I got two for a reason," said Smelter. "But if the situation brings it about, I guess I’m ready for it."
Smelter suffered a torn ACL in November when his Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets upset Georgia, becoming the latest addition to the ever-expanding list of draft prospects taken by 49ers general manager Trent Baalke hoping to find value in players coming off injuries.
Smelter joins Brandon Thomas, Tank Carradine, Marcus Lattimore, Trey Millard, Keith Reaser, and Quinton Dial as players who had injuries impact their draft stock, allowing Baalke to buy low, hoping to cash out with long-term returns.
Leading up to the spring's draft, receiver appeared to be a need for the 49ers, who lacked much depth behind starters Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. But instead of drafting a receiver to groom in the early rounds, Baalke waited on Smelter until the fourth round, when he took the former baseball player with the 132nd-overall pick. It marked the third straight year Baalke used a fourth-round pick on a receiver after taking Quinton Patton in 2013 and Bruce Ellington in 2014.
Smelter cannot come off the non-football injury list until Week 7, at the earliest, when the 49ers host Seattle for another Thursday night game at Levi's Stadium Oct. 22.
Smelter said no plan has been outlined for a promotion to the active roster, leaving the possibility open that he sits out the entire season to prepare for 2016. "I’m just taking it day by day. That’s the way I’ve taken it since I’ve had the surgery," he said.
At 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, Smelter is a physical, big-bodied receiver that has a similar makeup to Boldin. If not for a shoulder injury while pitching for Georgia Tech, baseball scouts believe he had a very real shot at making it to the Major Leagues, thanks to a fastball regularly clocked in the mid-90s.
After switching to football for his final two collegiate seasons, Smelter notched 56 catches for 1,060 yards and 11 touchdowns over 22 games in the Yellow Jackets' run-heavy, triple-option offense.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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