The 49ers’ off-season free agent additions of linebacker Oren Burks, wide receiver/return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud and safety George Odum may not have generated much buzz among fans. team, but the 49ers coaches couldn’t be more excited with the fact that they were able to add these three players to the roster.
That’s because the 49ers headed into the offseason with a desire to improve special teams while adding depth to each of those positions, and Burks, McCloud and Odum were high-ranked targets for the 49ers in each domain. And so far, every player has exceeded the expectations that surrounded them when they were brought on board.
49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan and special teams coordinator Brian Schneider spoke at the team’s recent State of the Franchise event about the additions of Burks, McCloud and Odum, who each signed free agent contracts. multiannual in March. The coaches explained that each position on offense and defense is rated separately from special teams, and that Burks, McCloud and Odum all performed well at their respective positions in addition to what they are capable of on special teams. In fact, Burks, McCloud and Odum were all number one on Schneider’s wish list by position when it came to what players could offer on special teams, with Schneider saying he can’t remember a time when a team was able to land three top players on their roster while meeting attacking and defensive needs.
“I think I’ve been in the NFL for 14, 13 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it where everything works,” Schneider said.
Burks, 27, came to the 49ers on a two-year contract after spending four seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Burks made an impact for the Packers on special teams, and he’s expected to do the same with the 49ers. But the 49ers also think Burks can do the job at linebacker if Fred Warner, Azeez Al-Shaair or Dr. Greenlaw get hurt (which happened to each of them to varying degrees last season).
“Everyone really loves our three starters,” Shanahan said. “Now we have a guy behind them who, if one of those guys gets hurt, can come in and play good starting linebacker football. But while he doesn’t, we think we have one. of the best special teams players in the league.”
Odum, 28, signed a three-year contract with the 49ers after spending four seasons with the Indianapolis Colts. He was an All-Pro selection as a special team in 2020 and also started seven safe games for the Colts in 2021. Schneider said Burks and Odum have been better than expected on and off the court since they joined the 49ers.
“These two guys came in and what they did on the field is even better than the tape,” Schneider said. “But what excites me most are the meeting rooms – how they set up, how professional they are. It’s just amazing to have them in the room.”
But perhaps the most intriguing addition to the group is McCloud, who shone the past two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers as a return specialist before signing a two-year contract with the 49ers. The speedy McCloud also caught 59 passes in two seasons with the Steelers, and Shanahan may have big plans for him on offense.
“I didn’t even watch his punt returns,” Shanahan said of his assessment of McCloud. “I just watched his receiver stuff, and I wanted him as a receiver. Bad. But you have to go out and pay for it. You watch the balance of how you make your money, and it’s like okay, Wait, are you the best punt returner too?
McCloud has impressed observers since joining the 49ers, including fellow receiver Jauan Jennings.
“Ray-Ray is electric,” Jennings said at the State of the Franchise event. “Ray-Ray had a great camp this year. He read defenses well. One of my favorite plays is the prime route, and he does really well. I just like watching that route; he handled it well. That’s fair from what I’ve seen. As far as everything else goes, he’s fast and he’s got a feel. He’s got a feel for him.
The 49ers have given a $4 million contract to McCloud, a $5 million contract to Burks and a $5.7 million contract to Odum, with approximately $7 million in guaranteed money combined for the three players . Shanahan says every player will give the 49ers bang for their buck, with their ability to fill multiple roles making a difference to the overall strength of the roster on game days.
“You want special teams players all the time,” Shanahan said. “The problem is, if you go out and draft or pay free agency (for) a guy just for special teams, it’s going to hurt your offense and your defense in the long run because you only have a limited number of guys on game day You only get 53 on the roster You only get 47, 48 with an extra But all these guys have a job to do, and if you have three guys on your roster just for special teams and you have two injuries, now you have guys there who shouldn’t be on the field playing the whole game on offense and defense and too tired to play special teams. So you’ve just got bad offensive and defensive guys there and you’ve got somebody who’s not good on special teams, and that just takes it apart.”
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