49ers training camp preview: Who is fighting for a spot at wide receiver?
Jul 19, 2023, 12:00 PM | Updated: 3:35 pm
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers enter the 2023 training camp with a few questions across the board. While most of the roster is a ready-made Super Bowl contender, some areas could spell disaster for the franchise, especially depth.
The 49ers have accumulated top-end talent to feature on both offense & defense, but what happens if those marquee players get hurt? We all watched it happen last season at the quarterback position, with the team playing four different signal-callers leading into the NFC Championship game. The same can be said for other key positions, including wide receiver.
San Francisco is set with their one-two combo of Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk for 2023.
Coming off a self proclaimed “awful” 2022 season, Samuel has vowed to make amends this time around. The offensive weapon is entering Year 1 of his three-year, $71 million extension he signed prior to training camp in 2022. He finished the 2022 season with 864 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns.
After coming in out of shape last year, the South Carolina alum has made it a priority to get back on track in 2023.
#49ers WR Deebo Samuel getting in some work 🥊
🎥: Deebo Samuel IG pic.twitter.com/RfwnB0Qgo0
— Alex Tran (@nineralex) July 15, 2023
On the other end of the field, Brandon Aiyuk has come into his own.
The Rocklin native and Arizona State grad became a focal point for Kyle Shanahan’s offense in 2022, recording his first 1,000-yard receiving season of his career. Thanks to his stellar play, the 49ers opted to pick up his fifth-year option of $14.1 million. If he continues his upward trajectory to stardom, John Lynch & Co. may be forced to find a way to get him an extension for his efforts.
And according to Aiyuk, the best is yet to come.
“I’m bout to take off,” he said during spring workouts.
— 𝙏𝙝𝙚𝙎𝙁𝙉𝙞𝙣𝙚𝙧𝙨 (@TheSFNiners) July 13, 2023
But who remains to back up those two is the bigger question. With both veterans and young prospects on the 90-man roster, training camp could get fiery over the next few weeks.
With that being said, here are the rest of the candidates to look out for at the 49ers training camp.
The 49ers’ de-facto No.3 wideout, simply because he’s the most reliable.
The former seventh-round pick has been one of the most consistent players for Shanahan, appearing in 17 games in his career. He came into his own last season, receiving the nickname “third & Jauan” for his efforts on third down. Jennings finished the 2022 season with 416 receiving yards, 35 catches and one TD to his name.
Still listed as the third guy on the depth chart, Jennings should still be a safety blanket for 49ers QBs when the primary targets are covered up next season.
Year 2 could be make-or-break for the former SMU Mustang, especially with the 49ers.
Gray was a nonfactor in his rookie year, mustering up one catch the entire season. Similar to Brandon Aiyuk, Gray was put in the “doghouse” due to being one-dimensional in the offense. Shanahan requires all pass catchers to also be able to block, a facet of Gray’s game that hasn’t developed thus far.
That could change in Year 2.
Danny Gray’s speed could be an x-factor for San Francisco in 2023, providing a deep-ball threat that opens up the underneath routes. But like previously said, the all depends on if he can fill out the rest of his game as well.
The veteran version of Danny Gray.
Ray-Ray McCloud is the 49ers’ wideout, kick returner, punt returner, ball carrier, etc. Pretty much whatever San Francisco needed him to do, he did it.
Now McCloud is back for another season with the 49ers, hoping to keep the same role into 2024. He finished last season with 14 catches for 243 yards and one TD in 17 games played.
The Clemson alum faces stiff competition to see his usage increase, but if Gray doesn’t improve all areas of his game, don’t be surprised to see Ray-Ray be utilized more & more.
Once upon a time, Chris Conley was an effective pass catcher for the Kansas City Chiefs and Jacksonville Jaguars. We’re not so sure if that’s the case anymore.
At age 31, Conley was brought in as a camp reciter to fill out the depth chart. It’s hard to see a path where he becomes a focal point for the 49ers’ offense, especially after not impressing much during spring workouts.
The point is: If Conley wants to stay in San Francisco, he’ll need to work for it in training camp.
One of the last picks in the 2023 NFL Draft, Michigan’s Ronnie Bell could make the roster in his rookie season.
The wideout has do-it-all capabilities similar to McCloud, able to be a deep threat and a return man at the pro level. Bell also impressed in spring workouts, catching any ball in his vicinity from all three QBs.
While it’ll be tough to churn out a meaningful role on offense, his usage on special teams could be his ticket to the show for Year 1.
Willie Snead IV:
Similar to Chris Conley except Snead has been with the 49ers longer.
Bouncing from the practice squad to the main roster numerous times last season, the 30-year-old only featured in four games for San Francisco. He ended the year with zero catches for the first time in his career.
Now back with the 49ers, it should be tough sledding again to see meaningful minutes on offense. And if he doesn’t want to play the practice squad game again, could he look for a new team midseason?
Another practice squad guy who joined the 49ers for the playoff push last season. Don’t expect much from the North Carolina alum, who could be cut by the end of the preseason.
See Dazz Newsome, except Martin dressed for two games last season.
A Twitter sensation after the 2023 draft, Winstead joined the 49ers as an undrafted free agent.
His long, rangy body (6’4″) gives him a leg up on other WRs, especially considering fits a need for San Francisco. Regardless, expect the Eastern Carolina alum to be a practice squad guy for most of the 2023 season.