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Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

49ers end-of-season grades: Wide Receivers

Rohan Chakravarthi
Feb 23, 2023 at 11:30 AM--

Continuing the end-of-season-grades series, it's time to evaluate the San Francisco 49ers wide receivers this season, led by 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk's emergence in the first 1,000-yard season of his career.

After dishing out $71 million to Deebo Samuel in the offseason on a three-year extension, the 49ers rolled into 2022 with the same top three receivers as a season ago, but saw different results due to injuries and changing production.

The 49ers will likely return the same unit: Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and Jauan Jennings in 2023, as the former two are still under contract, while the latter is a restricted free agent, but first, let's re-evaluate their performances for the 2022 season.

Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, catching 78 passes for 1,015 yards and eight touchdowns, leading the 49ers in nearly every receiving category.

With a strong campaign despite the number of starting quarterbacks the 49ers played, Aiyuk emerged as a No.1 wideout in the NFL, as he possesses elite route-running capabilities with enough deep speed to stretch the field as a downfield threat.

Aiyuk has the athleticism to make a number of catches, although consistency with difficult plays is the one area where he needs to improve on to cement himself among the league's best at the position.

Still, Aiyuk was phenomenal in 2022, serving as a complete receiver for the 49ers, not to mention his blocking abilities, which is why he's going to be in turn for a hefty extension following the 2023 season.

Deebo Samuel

After an All-Pro season where he caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards and 14 total touchdowns, Deebo Samuel took a step back in 2022, catching just 56 passes for 632 yards and five total touchdowns, as he played in just 13 games due to injury.

Samuel is still elite with the ball in his hands, which was why the star wideout saw the ball closer to the line of scrimmage with an average depth of target of 4.3 yards this season, down from 8.4 yards a season ago.

Samuel isn't the best route-runner, nor does he possess the best hands, which is seen by the lack of separation on his vertical routes, hence the lower average depth of target.

But, the wideback was still effective on the ground, rushing for 232 yards on 42 carries, which should be of bigger importance when he gets a full season with Christian McCaffrey, which provided mismatches for opposing defenses in guarding two versatile players.

Jauan Jennings

Jauan Jennings saw an uptick in volume, as he played in 16 games in 2022, catching 35 passes for 416 yards, although his touchdown numbers dipped to just one on the year.

Jennings was seen as a valuable third-down option, given his solid route-running ability for his size, and his hands improved over the second half of the season after several drops to begin the year.

The 2020 seventh-round pick was still a very effective run-blocker, which should only continue in 2023, in the likelihood he returns as a restricted free agent.

While the 49ers could look to attack the position in the draft, it appears unlikely, given the complexity of the scheme, that a younger player could eclipse Jennings on the depth chart, although 2022 third-round pick Danny Gray could see a bigger role in 2023.

Jennings isn't the fastest receiver, nor necessarily the best deep route-runner, but is good in the short and intermediate ranges, serving as a reliable third-down option, as well as a capable blocker.

Ray-Ray McCloud

Ray-Ray McCloud had a significant role with the 49ers, but as a punt returner and kick returner, rather than as a wide receiver, after signing a two-year deal in the offseason.

McCloud ended with better numbers in 2022, where he returned 33 punts for 356 yards, with his 10.8-yard average ranking third in the NFL, while returning 26 kickoffs for 599 yards, with the 23-yard average ranking ninth in the NFL.

Both averages were improvements on his 2021 numbers with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was amongst the best in the NFL in both categories.

As a receiver, McCloud wasn't significantly featured, but did catch 14 passes for 243 yards on an impressive 17.4 yards per catch.

Improving as the season went along, McCloud served as a valuable addition for his price tag, both as a gadget player, but more importantly as a returner.

The Grade

The 49ers receivers were important, but not necessarily as valuable as expected with the significant roles of George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey this season.

While Brandon Aiyuk impressed all season, Deebo Samuel regressed, as expected, while the remaining pieces fulfilled their role, although rookie Danny Gray couldn't buy any playing time, despite his draft status.

As a result, this group earns a 'B' grade for the season.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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