The San Francisco 49ers have been masters of bringing up skill players under head coach Kyle Shanahan. From former high draft picks like Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel to later picks like George Kittle and Jauan Jennings, this 49ers team has done a great job of assembling a plethora of skill position talent.
Specifically, the 49ers have found many playmakers offensively who excel at creating in space or after the catch. They have an arsenal of weapons that have become known as YAC monsters, and that tradition may continue with one of the intriguing rookies from their 2023 NFL Draft class. That rookie is 7th-round pick Ronnie Bell, a wide receiver prospect out of Michigan who has absolutely been balling out in the preseason thus far.
San Francisco 49ers rookie receiver Ronnie Bell turning heads early on
NFL.com Draft analyst Lance Zierlein liked Ronnie Bell for his underrated ball skills and a 2021 injury could provide some great context for why he was picked so late after the 2022 season.
"True Michigan Man, displaying the competitive spirit and work ethic expected inside the program. Bell made it back in 2022 after sustaining an ACL tear in 2021, but he still looked a little passive getting in and out of breaks at times. His surprisingly low contested catch total is a bit deceiving, as the tape shows some incredible near-catches at challenging angles. So, his ball skills are a strength. He can catch what is thrown to him but might need to do it against zone or with help from scheme, as he potentially lacks the separation traits to get open consistently on the next level.Lance Zierlein, NFL.com"
Bell suffered a torn ACL in the 2021 season and didn’t quite play to his fullest potential in 2022. The 49ers were able to snag him in the 7th round thanks to that injury and thanks to the fact that the Michigan offense hasn’t exactly been an aerial assault. He still caught 62 passes for 889 yards and four touchdowns last season, very good production coming off of a major knee injury, especially in an offense that barely threw for 3,000 yards.
This guy has some serious competitive toughness and the 49ers had obviously been eyeing him for quite some time. He’s a 7th-round pick who is getting play packages in the preseason? This is a clear vision for a player being given some legs in exhibition games and you love to see it. The 49ers doing this during the preseason will almost undoubtedly result in Bell getting some looks when the games start counting for real, but how high can he climb on the depth chart?
Even if he’s just WR4 for the time being, Bell should get some time in the rotation throughout the season and it certainly doesn’t hurt his cause that he really helped Trey Lance put some good things on tape in that last game against the Denver Broncos.
The 49ers may have another late-round steal on their hands.