The 49ers signed 25-year-old Ray-Ray McCloud to a two-year contract this offseason. With Jauan Jennings making a name for himself down the stretch and the Niners drafting a wide receiver in the third round, determining what role McCloud will have this upcoming season is tricky.
The former sixth-round pick out of Clemson spent a season with Buffalo, then with Carolina, before landing with Pittsburgh during the past two seasons. McCloud went from five total catches in his first two seasons to 20 in 2020 before having a career-high 39 receptions last year. McCloud’s target share tripled from 2020 to 2021.
His average depth of target was one yard until last season when that number jumped to 6.6. During the summer with the 49ers, you’ve likely seen reports of McCloud catching deep passes, running by defensive backs, and making plays down the field.
San Francisco already has more than enough mouths to feed at the table. So, is there room for Ray-Ray to eat in 2022?
Experience: 4 accrued seasons
Weight: 190 lbs.
McCloud has $1.035 in guaranteed salary for this season. He’ll be on the roster this year, but there’s no assurance McCloud will make it next season. The way his contract is set up, the 49ers could save $1.2 million next offseason by releasing Ray-Ray, while eating $875,000 in dead money.
How he can improve in 2022
Holding onto the ball has been a legitimate concern for McCloud in his career. Last season, he had a drop rate of 8.5%. The more volume McCloud had, the worse his numbers were. Having a more petite frame means the quarterback's room for error isn’t as great from an accuracy standpoint if the receiver isn’t a jump ball type of wideout. That’s not McCloud’s game. So Lance would have to be pinpoint accurate.
McCloud fumbled six times last season. As the returner, a game can be decided by a special team's mistake. Not many teams know that more than the 49ers.
If we expect McCloud to be more than just a jet sweep, gadget type of player — which would increase his yards after the catch and depth of target numbers, he has to catch the ball and likely learn to win over the middle of the field to be productive in this offense.
Where McCloud makes his mark
McCloud saw over 43% of his receptions go for a first down last season. That gives Kyle Shanahan something to work with. Where Jennings makes his mark on routes under ten yards, think McCloud as the guy to run a slot fade or the receiver responsible for running off coverage.
That way, when he’s in the game, the defense doesn’t presume McCloud’s getting the ball on a reverse. At his size, I doubt we’ll see many carries. If coaches wanted to give him the ball, it would’ve happened by now. Eight carries in four seasons with three different teams tell you McCloud isn’t a ball-carrier.
If Danny Gray is taking on the Marquise Goodwin role, then McCloud will be what the Niners hoped they were getting in Tavon Austin. A player who can flip the field every now and then on special teams as a returner while giving you an explosive play on offense every couple of games.