Each week leading up to training camp, 49ers.com is continuing it's breakdown of the 49ers as we get closer to the season. In this installment of the 2022 training camp preview, we will take a look at the team's wide receivers and see which players have emerged as young leaders since the end of the 2021 season.
The 49ers receiving corps seem to be set up for success in the 2022 season after adding depth to the position group with Ray-Ray McCloud III through free agency and Danny Gray in the 2022 NFL Draft. The two players will join the 49ers returning wideouts who made up an offensive unit that racked up 361 total first downs, 6,598 total yards and 50 touchdowns.
Deebo Samuel took command of the 2021 season, leading the team in total yards (2,085 including postseason) that he notched from receptions, rushing and even a 24-yard pass. His versatility led Samuel to eventually call himself a "wideback," the combination of a wide receiver and running back.
During the team's Week 9 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, 10-year veteran receiver Mohamed Sanu (now with the Miami Dolphins) suffered a season-ending knee injury. His absence forced young players such as Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings to set up in the tail end of the year. Aiyuk and Jennings' growth in head coach Kyle Shanahan's offense quickly empowered the two receivers to emerge as leaders in the unit.
Wide Receivers Breakdown
It was a slow start for Aiyuk in 2021. Using the first half of the season to hone in on his skill set, the receiver had a breakout game in Week 9 against the Cardinals when the receiver played more than 90 percent of the snaps. And Aiyuk carried his momentum throughout the rest of the season. In the team's final nine contests, Aiyuk only had three games where he failed to reach 50 receiving yards.
He finished 2021 with 56 receptions, five touchdowns and 826 receiving yards – recording 78 more receiving yards than his rookie campaign in fewer games played.
Gray was the second of the team's third-round draft picks (105th overall) selected in this year's draft. The receiver started all 18 games he appeared in between 2020-2021 at Southern Methodist and registered 72 receptions for 1,251 yards and 13 touchdowns. In 2021, Gray was named First-Team All-AAC.
"He can fly," wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk said during OTAs. "He came in, he's ready to learn. He's ready to work. I like him."
Jennings finished the 2021 season with 24 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns. His best game came at the very end of the regular season in the team's must-win Week 17 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams where he had six receptions for 94 yards and two touchdowns.
The receiver shined within the team's offensive unit due to his physicality. Jennings earned an 84.5 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus after showing off his confidence to break tackles and take on blocks.
"I think it came from playing basketball," Jennings said during the 49ers 2022 State of the Franchise. "And also just being able to rely on the basic skill sets that I need on each and every route, it's the same thing as muscle memory."
Johnson originally entered the NFL in 2019 as a sixth-round draft pick by the Cardinals. In August 2021, he joined the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad.
San Francisco signed Johnson to a reserve/future contract in late January of 2022.
Johnson originally entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Eagles where the receiver played alongside now-49ers quarterback Nate Sudfeld. Throughout his five-year career with the Eagles (2017), Colts (2018-20) and Tennessee Titans (2021), he has appeared in 41 games (12 starts) and registered 51 receptions for 839 yards and three touchdowns.
As a dynamic wide receiver, Johnson has averaged an astounding 16.5 yards per catch for his entire career.
"He's got speed," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "But the other thing with Marcus, as far as the ability to catch a ball, there's a specific trait — a tracking trait — where you're tracking the deep ball, and Marcus is particularly skilled at that. He tracks the deep ball very well."
As an undrafted free agent, Mack entered the league in 2020 with the New York Giants. In 2021, he had seven receptions for 91 yards.
Mack was released by the Giants in September of 2021 and joined San Francisco's practice squad in December that year. Afterwards, the 49ers signed him to a reserve/future contract entering 2022.
Starting seven games in his collegiate career at Pittsburg, Mack compiled 27 receptions for 461 yards and three touchdowns in 2021. He was also selected to play in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.
In May, Mack agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
As a Second-Team All-Big 12 selection, Martin recorded 1,046 receiving yards on 80 receptions for 10 touchdowns in 2021, all of which led Oklahoma State. His receiving yardage total ranked No. 1 in the Big 12 and made him the 10th player in school history to record 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
In May, Martin agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.
Originally drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round (187th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft, McCloud has also spent his four-year career with the Carolina Panthers (2019) and Pittsburgh Steelers (2020-21). Appearing in a total of 48 games (eight starts), the wide receiver registered 64 receptions for 390 yards while adding eight carries for 84 yards on offense. He also has recorded 72 kickoff returns for 1,614 yards (22.4 average) and 81 punt returns for 767 yards (9.5 average). In his two postseason contests, McCloud added nine kickoff returns for 212 yards and four punt returns for 29 yards.
In 2021, McCloud led the NFL in punt return yards (367) while also adding 35 kickoff returns for 776 yards.
"I'm a playmaker, I'm explosive and I don't think there's a more explosive offense that puts the ball in a player's hands and space like the 49ers," McCloud said. "The plan that the organization laid out for me – I thought it was a great opportunity for my skill set."
Samuel finished 2021 with 77 catches, 1,770 all-purpose yards (third most in the league) and 14 touchdowns (6 receiving, 8 rushing). He also led the NFL with an average of 18.2 yards per catch and ranked No. 1 among all receivers with an average of 10 yards after the catch.
Last year, Samuel received his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors.
Entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent, Turner has spent his four-year career with the Seahawks (2018-19) and Cowboys (2020-21), appearing in 41 games (three starts) and registering 29 receptions for 414 yards and four touchdowns.