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4 things to know about seventh-round pick WR Ronnie Bell, including why the 49ers picked him

Apr 29, 2023 at 5:42 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers used one of their three seventh-round picks on Saturday to add University of Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell, giving them a potential late steal at pick 253 overall.

Bell (6-0, 191) is a familiar name to college football fans after putting up a productive career at Michigan over the past five years. Bell finished his career at Michigan with 145 catches for 2,269 yards and nine touchdowns in 41 games.

Here's what to know about Bell as he begins his career with the 49ers.

The 49ers liked his consistency and versatility

The 49ers selected a few players in this draft who didn't have high statistical production in college, but Bell wasn't among them. His performance over the course of his career caught the team's eye, as did his ability to help in multiple areas.

"Just how consistent of a football player he is," 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan told reporters Saturday. "I believe he was a captain, a coach's son -- that doesn't mean much, but he plays like what you want that to be like. He was just so consistent. Special teams player, good returner, did really everything they asked. Very good in his routes. There was not one thing that he struggled with. When you can put him into a group and just whatever his skill set is, I think he could fit in any position.

"And he seemed like one of the more reliable guys -- wideouts that we watched in all of college football. And we want guys to be good over time. And I feel like he's a guy who's been as good of a football player as there is in college."

His skills as a return man will help his cause

As Shanahan mentioned, Bell showed some ability as a return specialist at Michigan. Bell returned 13 punts for 150 yards and two kicks for 53 yards at Michigan, and he'll be stepping into a situation where his new team is in search of players who can provide depth in the return game behind Ray-Ray McCloud.

"He's not the biggest package, but real tough, physical, gritty player with the ball in his hands," 49ers general manager John Lynch said Saturday. "Made a lot of big plays in big moments. The return ability is a big thing.

"We had Ray-Ray and behind Ray-Ray, we didn't really have (anyone). BA's (Brandon Aiyuk) done it before, but we wanted another returner. But really he made it just on those traits. He's a guy that the more we watched, more we liked and did it at the right times too. So Ronnie was a great addition."

Bell isn't sure what his role with the 49ers will be just yet but said Saturday evening he'd be happy to help in the return game if need be.

"I know they said we report the 11th, so once I'm in the building, once I'm around the guys and pieces start to fall into place, I'll have that answer, but I'm definitely just ready to work and just really excited," Bell said.

An ACL tear in his history

Bell suffered a season-ending injury at the start of the 2021 season when he tore his ACL in Michigan's season opener against Western Michigan. Bell caught a 76-yard touchdown in the game, then was forced to watch from the sidelines the rest of the way.

Fortunately he came back stronger in 2022. Bell said before the season he felt as good as ever following his recovery ("I would say yes, I do," Bell said in August of 2022, per Wolverines Wire. "I feel blessed... My body feels great") and proved it by catching 62 passes for 889 yards and four touchdowns in his final year of eligibility.

Bell spoke about his knee when talking with reporters Saturday evening.

"I've done nothing but feel stronger as the time has gone by," Bell said. "And so, yeah, last year just showed me throughout the time that I am still getting stronger. Even though I felt 100 percent at the beginning, throughout the season, I started to feel even better than I did in the beginning. So, again, I just feel like I'm just going to continue to get stronger with time."

What the scouts said

Bell ran a 4.54 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine with a 1.52-second 10-yard split, a 38.5-inch vertical jump and a 6.98-second 3-cone drill. He was rated by as a Round 6 selection.

"True Michigan Man, displaying the competitive spirit and work ethic expected inside the program," wrote Lance Zierlein of "Bell made it back in 2022 after sustaining an ACL tear in 2021, but he still looked a little passive getting in and out of breaks at times. His surprisingly low contested catch total is a bit deceiving, as the tape shows some incredible near-catches at challenging angles. So, his ball skills are a strength. He can catch what is thrown to him but might need to do it against zone or with help from scheme, as he potentially lacks the separation traits to get open consistently on the next level."

The Draft Network rated Bell as the No. 158 prospect in the 2023 field.

"Bell projects as a No. 3 wide receiver and return specialist early in his career," wrote Damian Parson of TDN. "His ability to get open and work from multiple alignments creates a fluid NFL offensive fit. He can become a movement piece for a passing game in 11-personnel (3WR) packages. There is developmental upside for Bell to become the second wide receiver behind an established No. 1 option. Bell's return prowess will allow him to make an impact for a team while he finds his place within the offensive system."


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