With minicamp in full swing, we are getting our first look at the 2022 San Francisco 49ers. I always try to hold off on making sweeping statements before the pads go on, as there is not much that can be taken away from a team running 7-on-7s in shorts in early June.
One thing that has been apparent in the early stages of the 49ers' offseason program is how deep their wide receiver group is. It's no secret how loaded they are at the top, led by Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
Samuel recorded over 1,400 receiving yards in 2021, despite logging nearly twice as many rushing attempts as receptions over the last eight games. His 17.9 yards per reception ranked first in the entire NFL, and his prolific season led to him being recognized as a first-team All-Pro selection. Samuel is not only the 49ers' number one receiver, but he is also one of the best players in the entire league, at any position.
Aiyuk shrugged off a peculiar lack of targets early in the season to post a strong back half, during which he averaged 71 receiving yards per game, which would equate to 1,211 yards throughout a 17-game schedule. Aiyuk proved he has what it takes to be a 1B as much as a secondary option. However, what really sets this group apart are the next three spots.
Jauan Jennings is going into his third season, coming off of a year that saw him take a huge leap forward to become an integral part of the 49ers' offense. At first glance, Jennings' regular-season numbers might not jump off the page. He recorded 24 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns on 38 targets. When you dive deeper, these totals become extremely impressive.
Of Jennings's 24 catches, 20 went for a first down or a touchdown. Ten of those catches came on third down, with eight going for a first down and another for a touchdown. That means that 52% of the time Jennings was targeted, the play resulted in a first down or touchdown. Remember, that's just based on targets.
If you base it on receptions, it means 83% of the time, Jennings ended up with the ball in his hands, the play went for a first down or resulted in a touchdown. That is insane efficiency and speaks volumes to the kind of player Jennings is, as someone who is built for the big moment and does not shy away under pressure.
With Jennings essentially locked into the third wide receiver role, the pecking order beyond that is a little unclear at the moment, which is a good thing because it means the 49ers have multiple options which are viable candidates to fill that position.
After signing Ray-Ray McCloud in free agency, you have to think that Kyle has some kind of plan to incorporate the former Pittsburgh Steelers wideout into his offensive attack. McCloud is a player who can do it all, whether it's stretch a defense vertically, work out of the slot, or even be used in a gadget capacity, whether it be motioning across the formation or working out of the backfield.
While McCloud may have the upper hand for that fourth spot based on his experience in the league, there is a rookie who will likely give him a run for his money (yes, that was an intentional pun). First-year wideout Danny Gray has been extremely impressive so far during the early stages of the offseason program and appears poised for a considerable role on the offense during his rookie campaign.
The first thing that comes to mind with Gray is his 4.3 speed, but his ability to move with the ball in space is just as valuable as the top-end speed and the potential to stretch defenses out vertically. Gray is a player who is simply electric when he gets the ball in space, and I imagine that will get him a noticeable amount of touches right out of the gate, even with the talented group of players currently above him on the pecking order.
Even beyond the aforementioned players, the 49ers have another receiver in Malik Turner who has 41 games of NFL experience under his belt and a skill set both on offense as well as special teams that should make him a strong candidate for the sixth and likely final wide receiver spot on the team.
The 49ers have at least five players who could justify being schemed into the offense in a given game, and that's before accounting for the production George Kittle brings to the passing game. The season is still a ways away, but the 49ers have to feel good about where their wide receiver room currently stands.