Each week leading up to training camp, 49ers.com is continuing its breakdown of the team's position groups as we get closer to the season. In this installment of the 2023 roster breakdown, 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 2022 season.
The San Francisco 49ers will enter this year's training camp with a total of 11 wide receivers. The newest additions are nine-year veteran Chris Conley, seventh-round draft pick Ronnie Bell and undrafted free agent Isaiah Winstead.
The position group will retain its star power from previous years, including players such as Deebo Samuel who signed a three-year contract extension with the team before the start of the 2022 season. Pro Football Focus ranked Samuel as a top-10 wide receiver ahead of the 2023 season, with analyst Sam Monson calling him "one of the most dynamic threats in the game."
- Brandon Aiyuk (4th Season)
- Ronnie Bell (1st Season)
- Chris Conley (9th Season)
- Danny Gray (2nd Season)
- Jauan Jennings (3rd Season)
- Tay Martin (2nd Season)
- Ray-Ray McCloud III (6th Season)
- Dazz Newsome (3rd Season)
- Deebo Samuel (5th Season)
- Willie Snead IV (8th Season)
- Isaiah Winstead (1st Season)
The 2022 49ers receiving corps including Aiyuk, Samuel, Jennings, McCloud III and Gray finished the season with a total of 2,316 yards on 184 receptions, 16 touchdowns, 1,156 yards after the catch, 106 first downs and an average 12.6 yards per catch.
Aiyuk shined in his third year and led the 49ers offense with a career-high 1,015 receiving yards. He was the team's second-leading touchdown scorer with eight TDs and earned a PFF receiving grade of 80.9.
Wide Receiver Breakdown
Aiyuk was a key factor in the 49ers success last season, starting in every game for San Francisco. Over the course of the season, he recorded 78 receptions for 1,015 yards, becoming the 49ers top receiving threat.
The wide receiver tied for the fifth-most receiving touchdowns in the league (eight touchdowns), making the 2022 season his career best.
"I'm about to take off," Aiyuk said during the team's offseason programming. "That's it. Nothing is guaranteed, but just getting a better understanding for my life as a person, and as a football player, and putting those two together, and then looking to get better. I feel like having another offseason being on top, being able to get out here another spring, working on my craft, I see it."
A wide receiver out of the University of Michigan, Bell was the third of three seventh-round draft picks selected by the 49ers in this year's NFL Draft. He appeared in 47 games (31 starts) in five years at Michigan and registered 145 receptions for 2,269 yards and nine touchdowns. During the 2022 season, Bell started all 14 games and set career highs with 62 receptions for 889 yards and four touchdowns, earning Third-Team All-Big Ten honors.
"He was just so consistent," Shanahan said. "A special teams player and a good returner. He did really everything they asked. He was very good in his routes. There was not one thing that he struggled with. When you can put him into a group, and whatever his skill set is, I think he can fit into any position and he seemed like one of the more reliable wideouts that we watched in all of college football. We want guys to be good over time and I feel like he's a guy who has been as good of a football player as there is in college. We have to see how he adjusts at this level, but if he can play at this level the way that he did in college, we're going to have a really good football player."
Conley was originally drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the third round (76th overall) of the 2015 NFL Draft. Over his eight-year NFL career with the Chiefs (2015-18), Jacksonville Jaguars (2019-20), Houston Texans (2021-22) and Tennessee Titans (2022), the wide receiver has appeared in 109 games (63 starts) and registered 217 receptions for 2,853 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Conley has also appeared in five postseason games (two starts) where he recorded eight receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown.
Gray was drafted by the 49ers in 2022 and saw 13 game appearances during his rookie season. As he enters his sophomore year in the league, the receiver has garnered praise from his head coach for the work he's put in during the spring and early summer.
"We saw him in the offseason have a little different attention to detail the way he came here in Phase 1 and 2, how he worked to get in shape, and that's what has allowed him to have a good OTAs and go through a bunch of stuff," Shanahan said. "To me, he's finally got in the shape to where he could do everything, and this will really help him for training camp."
During the 2022 season, Jennings secured the nickname "Third and Jauan" from the Faithful for his consistency as the team's third-down weapon, helping move the chains for the 49ers offense on crucial downs. Since being drafted by the 49ers in 2020, Jennings has notched a total of 698 receiving yards and six touchdowns.
In April, Jennings signed his one-year contract tender with the team.
Ahead of the 2022 season, Martin agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent. The wide receiver made two game appearances during his rookie season in Weeks 8 and 17.
In January, the 49ers signed Martin to a Reserve/Future contract.
Since joining the 49ers during the 2022 free agency period, McCloud III has shined on special teams as a dynamic returner, setting up San Francisco with advantageous field position. McCloud III had the second most punt return yardage in the NFL last season, including three returns over 20 yards.
In total, McCloud III recorded 243 receiving yards, 78 rushing yards, 955 combined punt and kick return yards and two touchdowns during the 2022 season.
Newsome was originally drafted by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round (221st overall) of the 2021 NFL Draft. He appeared in three games (one start) as a rookie in 2021 and registered two receptions for 23 yards as well as six punt returns for 75 yards. He later signed to the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad in November of 2022, then to the 49ers practice squad later that month.
In January, the 49ers signed Newsome to a Reserve/Future contract.
The fifth-year pro closed out the 2022 campaign with 42 carries for 232 yards and three touchdowns on the ground and another 56 catches for 632 yards and two scores through the air. Since he was drafted by the 49ers 36th overall in 2019, Samuel has notched a total of 3,230 receiving yards and 782 rushing yards, earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors.
Per PFF, Samuel tops all wideouts in YAC per reception, averaging 9.6 yards per catch.
Snead IV (5-11, 195) originally entered the NFL after signing with the Cleveland Browns as an undrafted free agent in May of 2014. After spending his rookie year on the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints practice squads, Snead IV spent the following eight seasons with the Saints (2015-17), Baltimore Ravens (2018-20), Las Vegas Raiders (2021), Panthers (2021) and 49ers (2022), where he appeared in 99 games (48 starts) and registered 279 receptions for 3,431 yards and 16 touchdowns. Snead IV has also played in six postseason contests (three starts), where he added 19 receptions for 165 yards.
Snead IV split time between San Francisco's practice squad and active roster last season, making four total appearances. In May, the wide receiver agreed to a one-year deal with the team.
A wide receiver out of East Carolina, Winstead appeared in 13 games and registered 88 receptions for 1,085 yards and six touchdowns during the 2022 season, earning an All-American Athletic Conference honorable mention. Winstead also spent time at the University of Toledo (2019-21) and Norfolk State University (2017-18).
In May, Winstead agreed to terms with the 49ers to become an undrafted free agent.