Predicting 49ers wide receiver depth chart after Ray-Ray McCloud injury

Ray-Ray McCloud's spot on the 49ers depth chart is now wide open for grabs.
San Francisco 49ers Training Camp
San Francisco 49ers Training Camp / Michael Zagaris/GettyImages

49ers' wide receiver/return man Ray-Ray McCloud broke his wrist and will have surgery, leaving him out for eight weeks. With that in mind, Niner Noise looks at the 49ers' wide receiver depth chart.

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan noted during his press conference on Wednesday that wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud had broken his wrist and would require surgery.

The timetable for his return was set for around eight weeks.

McCloud, who served as the 49ers' primary return man as well as a fourth receiving option in 2022, will have to make the Niners' final 53-man roster when cuts are made at the end of the month in order to be placed on injured reserve. If he was put on IR now, then he would be shelved for the entirety of the 2023 season.

That means that the 49ers will have to risk losing a player at another position in order to keep an extra wide receiver or cut one of the wideouts they want to keep and hope he clears waivers so he can be added back to the team once McCloud is placed on IR.

The two-month timeframe means McCloud would be ready to return in early October, meaning the likeliest game he'd be ready to play in would be the Week 6 matchup in Cleveland against the Browns on Oct. 15. NFL rules dictate he could not return from IR until after Week 4, but unless McCloud's recovery is speedier than expected, that midseason trip to Ohio seems like the best bet.

As is often the case in professional sports, McCloud's injury opens up the door for others who would otherwise be behind him on the depth chart to make a case to slide up, in the case of some, or even to be able to crack the roster when they might not have otherwise.

At this juncture, McCloud's absence likely leaves San Francisco's wide receiver depth chart looking a little something like this:

Starters: Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk

WR3: Jauan Jennings

WR4: Danny Gray

WR5/Return specialist: Ronnie Bell

Players who are more likely to make the roster, at least for the first six weeks: Willie Snead and Chris Conley

Some of the decision to keep someone like rookie Bell over veterans like Snead or Conley could come down to what Bell offers as a return specialist that the other guys simply do not.

Snead had one career punt return way back in 2017 while playing for the New Orleans Saints, and it went for 0 yards. He also has four career kickoff returns for a total of 55 yards, the last coming in 2020 while with the Baltimore Ravens for 5 yards (so more than likely a hands-team situation).

Conley has zero career punt returns and just three kickoff returns during his time in Kansas City with the Chiefs, although the total of 27 return yards would suggest he's not up for the challenge.

While Bell was not a prolific or long-tentured return man in college (13 career punt returns for 150 yards; two kickoff returns for 53 yards, both as a freshman in 2018), he has shown the ability to get the job done.

Whether the 49ers ultimately want to just hand the job of to a rookie for six weeks remain to be seen, but it seems inevitable that Bell will make the team now that McLoud is on the shelf.

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