Watch Eric Rogers’ highlights on YouTube and a theme emerges: High passes seem destined to sail out of bounds until Rogers leaps, stretches and snags the ball out of the air.
The 49ers’ new wide receiver had a few of the same during Tuesday’s practice, including a pass along the sideline from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis that Rogers snatched from cornerback Kenneth Acker.
“When the ball’s in the air, it’s mine,” he said afterward. “I don’t like negative plays.”
At 6-foot-3, Rogers is the team’s tallest receiver, and he has long arms and leaping ability – he excelled at the triple jump in high school – to accentuate his height. Playing for the Calgary Stampeders last year, he led the Canadian Football League with 1,448 receiving yards and, as a result, was wooed by 16 NFL teams.
The 49ers, who gave Rogers a $125,000 signing bonus, were his strongest suitor and signed him in January. He made an immediate impression.
“He’s huge,” fellow receiver Torrey Smith said last month. “He’s a very long athlete. His arms touch the floor. He’s tall. He stands by us and he’s bigger than everyone by a mile.”
In another way, however, the 25-year-old Rogers is representative of a 49ers receiving corps that is certain to see plenty of action in coach Chip Kelly’s high-intensity offense but that, aside from Smith, has no proven or prolific pass catchers.
The most favorable word to describe the group: intriguing. DeAndre Smelter has excellent size and power, but he’s an ex-baseball player who has relatively little football background. Smelter, a fourth-round pick last year, spent his rookie season recovering from an ACL injury and is healthy this offseason.
Bruce Ellington is quick and explosive but has been slowed by hamstring strains and ankle sprains in his career. Quinton Patton, meanwhile, has had nearly as many silly penalties as big plays in his three seasons with the team.
Then there’s Rogers, who has starred in two professional football leagues but is looking forward to his first catch in an NFL game.
His route to the 49ers began at Division III California Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, where he became the school’s all-time leader in scoring and receiving but attracted only scant interest from the NFL.
Instead, he made a name for himself in 2013 with the Portland Thunder of the Arena League. On his most memorable catch – which can be found on YouTube – he not only leaps over a defender in the end zone but the wall of the end zone. He had 73 receptions for 903 yards and 27 touchdowns that season, which led to a two-year stint in Calgary.
He helped the Stampeders to a Grey Cup title in 2014. Last season, he ran past and leaped over the competition and was named to the CFL All-Star team.
In Kelly’s three seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, the team had two pass catchers each season with at least 800 receiving yards. The 49ers’ top receiver last season, Anquan Boldin, had 789 yards. Boldin is a free agent who has had minimal contact with the 49ers since March and prefers to join a playoff contender.
Which is to say: If Kelly’s offense is to take off this year, it likely will require the emergence of at least one previously unheralded receiver.
Rogers excelled in the open spaces and expanded end zones of the CFL and has a chance to shine during noncontact drills this spring. The question is whether he can duplicate that success when the pads go on in the summer, the defensive backs become more physical and there is less room to roam.
“I think you have to wait until training camp,” Kelly said about his receiver prospects. “… It becomes a different game when you get to training camp and the pads come on and then you get to the preseason games and you really get to make an evaluation of what guys are like in contact.”