The stops, the roles, the statistics and the athletic marks of Bruce Ellington are his own.
But as the wideout and returner agreed to terms with the New England Patriots on a one-year deal worth up to $895,000 with just $25,000 guaranteed last Thursday, a name from the organization’s past came to mind.
Back in September 2015, New England acquired Martin and a sixth-round draft pick from head coach Bill O’Brien’s Houston Texans in exchange for a fifth-rounder.
Martin would go on to be active for nine games that regular season. Slowed by a hamstring injury, he’d post career-bests as a receiver while also spelling in on kickoffs and punts.
The Patriots signed Martin to a two-year, $2.975 million extension four months in.
“We’ve used him in different positions, really in all three receiver spots in our three-receiver groupings,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Martin that year. “He’s been inside and outside, both on the strong side and the weak side, so he has good position flexibility. He’s smart and he’s also given us some plays in the return game. His running skills, running after the catch are good. And his running skills in the return game – both punts and kickoffs – it’s not the easiest thing in the world to find a guy that can do both.”
Martin was later released by New England at the 53-man roster cut of 2016.
The stay was short and at a time of shortage. Yet Martin had been asked to do some of the same things in some of the same places as Ellington. He, too, arrived in the league as a former fourth-rounder. He, too, offered insurance in the slot and on the outside. He, too, offered a background in the return game.
Again, different prospects from a similar mold.
Martin caught 127 passes for 1,714 yards and 10 touchdowns during his days at Michigan State. Ellington, drafted two years later, caught 106 passes for 1,586 yards and 16 touchdowns during his days at South Carolina. They’d taken their share of end-around rushes at the collegiate level. They’d combined for 2,007 yards on kick returns and 675 yards on punt returns, as well, with Martin breaking away for three scoring run-backs and fielding the bulk of the punts.
Martin measured in at 5-foot-11, 188 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine while Ellington did so at 5-foot-9 and 197 pounds. Their hand sizes and arm lengths were separated by half an inch or less. Their 40-yard-dash times, meanwhile, weren’t separable at 4.45 seconds.
In terms of agility, their NFL.com scouting reports sang a similar tune. “Field-fast – accelerates in a hurry and turns over a fluid stride,” offered one. “An explosive mover who is quick off the snap to work into his routes,” offered another. That was backed up as Martin clocked a 6.85-second three-cone and Ellington ran the drill in 6.69 seconds. Their 60-yard shuttles sat four-hundredths of a second off.
And in terms of burst, their verticals were both 39.5 inches and their broad jumps were 122 and 120, inches, respectively.
MockDraftable, upon a later check, had Ellington’s numbers in Indianapolis as a 77.3 percent match to Martin’s profile. That seems worth noting.
So does the fact they’ve been rostered by three of the same NFL teams other than New England.
Coaching and personnel staffs have changed hands, though not all have. Martin, who hasn’t been under contract in the league since the 2017 preseason, was once a Texan, a San Francisco 49er and a Detroit Lion. The same goes for Ellington, an ex-SEC point guard and 49ers draft choice who spent the past campaign between the Texans and then the Lions, under former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and director of pro scouting Bob Quinn.
At the point of Patriots entry back in the fall of 2015, Martin was 25 years old. The trade flier had appeared in 48 NFL games. He’d accrued 38 receptions for 416 yards and three touchdowns. He’d handled 86 punt returns for 766 yards and another TD, along with 68 kick returns for 1,707 yards.
As for Ellington, the brother of current Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Andre Ellington will turn 28 this August. He’s appeared in 44 NFL games while battling a hamstring injuries. He’s accrued 79 receptions for 769 yards and five end-zone trips, including a pair versus the Patriots. He’s handled 48 punt returns for 372 yards and 50 kick returns for 1,279 yards.
Martin arrived as the more productive return man; Ellington as the more productive pass-catcher. They are their own.
But they share some of the same characteristics and experiences.
And while most of the common ground is coincidence, it’s also food for March thought.