Wide receiver Deebo Samuel has been ruled out of the 49ers’ Monday Night Football matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, meaning the remaining receiving corps will need to step up at US Bank Stadium.
Brandon Aiyuk will continue to take center stage in San Francisco’s offense, scoring 25 of 37 targets for 454 yards and two touchdowns over five games. The fourth-year receiver will look to rebound from a strong performance in the 49ers’ 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, when he caught just four of 10 catches from quarterback Brock Purdy — his lowest catch rate since Week 4 last season.
However, more of the void left by Samuel’s absence may need to be filled by both Joan Jennings and Ray Ray McCloud.
McCloud is the team’s return specialist who has returned a league-high 15 punts through six games plus three kickoffs. In his two seasons with the 49ers, the Clemson product was targeted just 30 times, recording 18 receptions for 270 yards.
An element McCloud can bring to the table is carrying the ball on jet sweeps, as he demonstrated successfully in the club’s loss to the Browns. Over the past 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 through five games this season, the receiver has been targeted just 12 times, and has made 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, compared to his 47 percent share of plays in 2022.
The wild card in the 49ers’ offensive plan Monday night could be rookie receiver Ronnie Bell, who played all six games but was only on the field for 89 offensive snaps (23 percent) and 48 special teams snaps (30 percent).
Bell 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 to take on an increased role Monday night.
49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has several options to try to make up for Samuel’s absence from the field, but the club will miss having a player on the field who can confuse the opposing defense by disguising what he will do with the ball in his hands.
“Prone to fits of apathy. Introvert. Award-winning internet evangelist. Extreme beer expert.”