With the start of training camp about three weeks away, now is the perfect time to look at each of the position groups on the San Francisco 49ers roster and predict who will make the 53-man roster.
On the roster: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Danny Gray, Marcus Johnson, Malik Turner, KeeSean Johnson, Taysir Mack, Austin Mack, Tay Martin
Analysis: Deebo Samuel is the best wide receiver to play for the 49ers since Jerry Rice. Don’t believe it? Compare the numbers from Samuel’s first three years to every receiver, including Terrell Owens.
Samuel started 2021 on fire. His 882 receiving yards were second only to Rice in franchise history and had him on pace for 1,874 yards. The need to use Samuel in the running game led to a reduction in targets, and he finished with 1405 yards and six touchdowns on 77 receptions.
Brandon Aiyuk is the clear number two receiver for the 49ers but has yet to fulfill his potential. After a strong rookie season, Aiyuk faced a limited role in San Francisco’s offense early in the season, limiting the second-year pro to only 96 receiving yards over the first six weeks. Aiyuk went on to record 730 of his 826 receiving yards over the final 11 games. With Trey Lance taking over at quarterback, fans may finally see the fulfillment of Aiyuk’s potential.
The most improved member of the 49ers offense last season was Jauan Jennings.
A seventh-round draft pick in 2020, Jennings spent his first season on San Francisco’s practice squad before breaking out in 2021.
Jennings recorded his first touchdown reception in week two against Philadelphia. Once veteran Mohamed Sanu was placed on injured reserve, Jennings moved into a more prominent role and made the most of his opportunity, recording 21 receptions for 251 yards and four touchdowns over the final nine games.
In total, Jennings came down with 24 receptions last season, 20 of which went for either a first down or a touchdown.
Joining Samuel, Aiyuk, and Jennings as locks to make the final roster are new additions Ray-Ray McCloud and Danny Gray.
McCloud joins the 49ers after spending the last two seasons with Pittsburgh. The four-year veteran is coming off the best season of his career, which saw him finish with 39 receptions for 277 yards.
Mostly known for his play on special teams, McCloud stood out during San Francisco’s offseason program, making grabs all over the field. He appears destined to replace the role filled last season by Trent Sherfield.
San Francisco selected Gray at the end of the third round in this year’s draft. The former SMU wideout is a speedster and is expected to add a vertical element to the 49ers passing game. Gray had an excellent practice in front of the media during rookie minicamp; however, he missed the remainder of the workouts due to a strained hamstring.
Question marks: Will Deebo Samuel receive a new contract before training camp?
The biggest non-quarterback story around the 49ers this offseason has involved the contract negotiations between the team and its star receiver.
Deebo Samuel requested a trade before the draft and has yet to rescind that demand. Despite this, Samuel reported to San Francisco’s mandatory minicamp in June. Although he did not participate in any drills with the team, Samuel interacted with his teammates throughout both practices.
San Francisco has a pattern of getting its big contract re-signings done around the start of training camp. It is hard to imagine Samuel attending practices without a new deal in place, making the next few weeks pivotal in negotiations.
Who takes the final roster spot?
Five roster spots appear set, and Marcus Johnson, Malik Turner, and rookie Tay Martin are the top candidates to fill the sixth and final spot.
The ability to play special teams is often the deciding factor at the back end of the roster. Malik Turner played under new 49ers special teams coordinator Brian Schneider during his time in Seattle. This familiarity and his wide receiver productivity make him a logical selection to make the cut.
53-man Roster Projection: (6) Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Ray-Ray McCloud, Danny Gray, Malik Turner.