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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

5 burning questions about the 49ers’ wide receiver group

Marc Adams
May 25, 2024 at 10:39 AM

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This offseason has been filled with questions surrounding San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. Just as in seasons past, when the team had other star players looking for a new deal, questions and rumors have swirled regarding Aiyuk's future with the 49ers. Will San Francisco extend him? Will they trade him? Fans of the team want to know.

While some may already be nervous about the 49ers losing Aiyuk, it seems likely the team will go the route it took with Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Fred Warner. They'll get a deal worked out. But it may not be until late July at the earliest.

So while we wait for Aiyuk's new deal to be done, there are other wide receiver questions the 49ers must answer. Here are five burning questions regarding the rest of the 49ers wide receiver room:

Where is Jauan Jennings?

Jauan Jennings was one of the players missing from OTAs (organized team activities). Is he holding out for a new contract? He still hasn't signed his tender as a restricted free agent. The 49ers have expressed an interest in keeping Jennings beyond 2024, but how committed are they to doing so?

In 2023, Jennings had only 19 catches for 265 yards in the regular season. Those numbers are easy to replace. But it's what Jennings does in the run game, as a blocker, that makes him so valuable. Add to that his propensity to come up with big catches in big moments of big games, and he's a player the 49ers would love to keep. But at what price?

While Jennings only had 19 regular-season grabs, he had 10 in the postseason. He has a knack for coming up big when his team needs him the most. But is that worth what Jennings may be wanting? Can the 49ers find another wide receiver who can give them that kind of production?

Regardless, it looks like Jennings will be ready whenever he does show up. He's hard at work.

Can Ricky Pearsall be an impact player?

If there is a positive to Jennings and Aiyuk missing OTAs, it's that players like rookie wide receiver, Ricky Pearsall, get more reps. But it's not all positive, according to 49ers wide receivers coach Leonard Hankerson. "It's good for Ricky because he's getting a ton of reps," Hankerson told reporters. "But it's also bad for us because that's two guys who know how we do things around here, and he's not able to see those guys do it. That's added reps for another chance to learn."

Pearsall hopes to make the most of his opportunities. The 49ers hope the same. By all accounts, Pearsall appears to be starting out well, making some nice catches and running some tight routes in OTAs.

Matt Barrows, of The Athletic, wrote that Pearsall, "...had an impressive session that included a pair of catches against [Ambry] Thomas. On one of them, Pearsall went to the ground to dig out a pass in traffic. On another, he created plenty of space against Thomas on a comeback route. Both passes were thrown by [QB Brock] Purdy."

Purdy also had some good things to say about his new wide receiver. "He's done a good job," Purdy said of Pearsall. "He's come in, he's obviously learned the playbook, he's coming to work every day. We always like young guys that can come in and they're willing to do the dirty work – to learn, to start from the ground up. And he's done that. He's done everything right."

Pearsall also took some punt return reps during OTAs. Can he make an impact on the team as a rookie? How about beyond 2024? The 49ers will need him even more after this season.

Is Jacob Cowing injured?

Jennings and Aiyuk weren't the only wide receivers missing from OTAs. Rookie receiver Jacob Cowing was also absent from drills, although Sterling Bennett, of 49ers Access, says Cowing was watching practice from the sideline. I have not seen anyone mention why he wasn't practicing. Could he already be injured?

Purdy appears to be high on Cowing. "Yeah, he's quick. He's twitchy," Purdy said. "I'm impressed with just the way he's acted and interacted with guys. Very smart, very respectful, and a guy that I could tell he is going to get after it in terms of knowing what his job is. And as a quarterback, I feel like you're always looking for a guy that you can trust. So yeah, I've seen that so far from him. I'm excited to see what he can do just in terms of taking off the top and running downfield and everything once we get to it. So, I'm really excited to have him."

Offensive Passing Game Specialist, Klay Kubiak, had some good things to say about Cowing, as well. He sounds like he may end up being a good receiver for the 49ers. I hope he is able to start practicing with the team soon. OTAs are voluntary, but rookies need all the work they can get.

Will Danny Gray make the team?

Danny Gray is fast! But that's about all he's shown in his two seasons with the 49ers. Granted, in 2023, he was injured and missed the entire season. But still, with all the new wide receivers the team has brought in, you have to wonder if Gray will make the final roster. He has only one catch for 10 yards in his NFL career.

Gray needs a strong offseason, training camp, and preseason. And it sounds like he may be off to a good start.

Grant Cohn, of FanNation on, wrote about Gray's first week of OTAs, noting that Gray, "Caught three passes and dropped zero, which is big for him because he was a drop waiting to happen the past two offseasons. Today, he caught the ball confidently with his hands away from his frame. If he continues to play like he did in this practice, he'll make the team."

Hankerson said, "Danny has been doing a hell of a job for us since April 15, being back here busting his tail. What I would like for Danny is to just be consistent doing it. I never question his work ethic at all. It's just a matter of can he sustain it? And thus far he has been doing a hell of a job. I'm impressed with where he's at. I'm impressed by his mindset, how he's been out there competing. And I think he has gotten better. He has been doing every I have been asking him to do."

If Gray can figure things out, he could be that downfield threat the 49ers offense has been lacking. If he can't figure it out, he may be looking for a new team.

Will this be Deebo Samuel's last season in San Francisco?

It's way too early to ask this question, but I'm including it because someone was going to ask it. I wouldn't anticipate the 49ers addressing Samuel until next offseason. For now, he is one of the 49ers top playmakers for 2024. What happens after 2024 is anyone's guess.

Samuel showed up for OTAs, which is a good sign. And by all accounts, he looked good physically, which is an even better sign. When Samuel shows up in good shape, and is focused, that typically means he's going to punish defensive players all season long.

According to Barrows, Samuel "snagged several passes during Tuesday's session. He made one toe-tap grab at the sideline in front of new cornerback Isaac Yiadom. He had another against Rock Ya-Sin, who was a frequent opponent during Senior Bowl practices in 2019 when they were perhaps the top two players on the field."

Perhaps the better question for Samuel in 2024 is whether he can stay healthy all season? His style of play doesn't lend itself to making it through an entire season. And Samuel is important to what the 49ers do on offense. San Francisco needs its "wide back" to be available as often as possible in 2024.

What happens beyond 2024 will be discussed plenty after the season. But for now, the 49ers will look to use their wide receiver room to help get over the hump and finally win a Super Bowl. Stay tuned.
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