by Craig Massei - SFIllustrated.com
This is reality, folks: As of this very moment, the young and precocious Brandon Lloyd is the *****' No. 1 receiver. Rashaun Woods, Cedrick Wilson and Curtis Conway are the only guys who could change that number this season, which is another way of saying it's not going to happen. So how does the inexperienced Lloyd stack up as a No. 1? Well, after perusing his newly-defined physique to go along with his already defined skills, perhaps a lot better than most would think.
When Lloyd began catching notice during the second half of last season with a run of spectacular catches, coaches and teammates and even Lloyd himself began grousing about how the slender rookie needed to get bigger and stronger to become a legitimate receiving threat and fulfill the NFL destiny that awaited him.
That destiny arrived a little sooner than expected after 2003 starting receivers Terrell Owens and Tai Streets vacated the premises during the offseason, and the Niners slid back in the first round of the draft to take the seventh receiver selected - Woods - before making Conway their only veteran free-agent acquisition during the offseason.
Woods and Conway both will help the Niners at receiver this season. But neither is in Lloyd's category at this point as far as ability to make plays and importance to San Francisco's passing system.
When a refreshed Lloyd appeared during the team's first minicamp in early May, he no longer was the rawboned rookie who spread 185 pounds across his 6-foot frame. Lloyd had a new cord of muscle running from shoulder to shoulder, and there was thickness in areas that used to be thin.
Lloyd said he "put on about seven pounds from last season" and none of it is wasted weight. "I'm up to 192," he said. "It was a lot of hard work and I'm feeling good now. The (extra muscle) feels real good. I'm going to have more of an increased role, so that's going to be imperative so I can take more shots, take more hits and be able to recover quickly."
Increased role? Make that the No. 1 role, Brandon. You're the top target now.
Lloyd handled the role effortlessly during the spring, running routes like a skilled veteran and twisting in the air to make catches like a special athlete. The instinctive, gyrating ability possessed by Lloyd always has allowed him to cushion and absorb hits from bigger players, but now the added size will help in that area, too.
And anybody who says Lloyd's still not big enough to handle a No. 1 role isn't taking a good enough look around the league.
In a game that's now gravitating toward bigger receivers, Lloyd is equal in stature to two of the NFL's elite receivers - St. Louis' Torry Holt and Indianapolis' Marvin Harrison. In fact, Lloyd probably goes about 10 pounds heavier than Harrison now. Lloyd compares favorably in size to St. Louis' Isaac Bruce (one of Lloyd's idols) and other top receiving playmakers such as Washington's Laveranues Coles and Tennessee's Derrick Mason.
And he's bigger than New York's Santana Moss, New England's Troy Brown, Green Bay's Donald Driver and Carolina's Steve Smith. We point out those names to illustrate that smaller receivers can be successful as No. 1 receiving options at this level.
Of course, size isn't everything. Skill and talent and passion and performance count for just as much, and by the looks of things this spring, Lloyd already is stocked pretty well in those departments.
Now he's just looking to develop steady production over time. When asked this spring if it was important to assert himself as the primary receiver on this team, Lloyd considered the inquiry for a moment, then stared down the question.
"No, just to assert myself as a consistent receiver," Lloyd replied. "Once I establish myself, establish consistency, then everything will come along with that."