Jennings, Bell must step up for 49ers in Samuel's absence originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has been ruled out for the 49ers' “Monday Night Football” matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, which means the remaining receiving corps will need to step up at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Brandon Aiyuk will continue to take center stage in San Francisco's offense, as he hauled in 25 of 37 targets for a team-high 454 yards and two touchdowns over five games. The fourth-year receiver will be looking to bounce back from a tough performance in the 49ers' 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, when he caught just four of 10 targets from quarterback Brock Purdy -- his lowest catch rate since Week 4 last season.
More of the void left by Samuel’s absence, however, might need to be filled by both Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud.
McCloud is the team’s return specialist who has returned a league-high 15 punts through six games along with three kickoffs. In his two seasons with the 49ers, the Clemson product has been targeted only 30 times, registering 18 receptions for 270 yards.
The element that McCloud can bring to the table is carrying the ball in jet sweeps, as he successfully showed in the club’s loss to the Browns. Over the last two years, McCloud has carried the ball six times for 101 yards and a touchdown. This added element to a receiver's arsenal can confuse defenses as seen when Samuel is on the field.
Jennings is regularly involved in the offense but over five games this season, the receiver only has been targeted 12 times, notching seven catches for 127 yards.
Also known to 49ers Faithful as “Third-and-Jauan,” the receiver caught 35 of 56 targets for 416 yards and one touchdown in 2022 -- and 23 of those receptions were for first downs. This season, Jennings has been on the field for 41 percent of the club's offensive plays, in comparison to his 47 percent share of the action in 2022.
A wild card in the 49ers' offensive plan for Monday night could be rookie receiver Ronnie Bell, who has played all six games but only has been on the field for 89 offensive snaps (23 percent) and 48 special-teams plays (30 percent).
Bell has caught three of his four targets for 31 yards and a touchdown but none since the club’s Week 4 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Michigan product could be set for an increased role Monday night.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has many options to attempt making up for Samuel's absence on the field, but the club will miss having a player on the field who can confuse an opposing defense by disguising what he will be doing with the ball in his hands.