Home News Great expectations or not for 49ers’ top pick Ricky Pearsall?

Great expectations or not for 49ers’ top pick Ricky Pearsall?


SANTA CLARA – Ricky Pearsall won the 49ers’ draft-day hearts with all the attributes you’d expect from a first-round wide receiver.

So now what? Rookie stardom? Growing pains? Stay tuned.

“Everybody wants it to happen overnight. But that’s not going to be the case,” said Leonard Hankerson, the 49ers’ wide receivers coach. “It’s going to take time to learn, to get a full understanding of how to get open vs. this leverage, vs. this defense.

“Once it does click, he has the ability to put it together and make plays for us.”

Rookie-year expectations typically come with a boom-or-bust scenario, perhaps even more so when the 49ers are in a Super Bowl-or-bust season. But Pearsall, the No. 31st pick, joins an all-star cast that should afford him time to learn the intricate details of coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

“Whatever he asks from me, he’s going to put me in the best position, and that’s something I think he does a really great job of: putting people in the right spots and attacking their strengths,” Pearsall said. “I’m excited to see where he puts me in the system.”

The system is not as simple as see-ball, catch-ball. Pearsall first must proceed through a rigorous onboarding process.

“That is the start,” Hankerson said, “because what you see on film with him –playing fast, making plays, catching over the middle and in traffic, playing with swag — that happens once you figure out the offense and the details in which we coach every route, where to be at, the timing, the landmarks, the depth of everything.

“It’s hard to play fast when you don’t know those things, because you’re still trying to learn where to line up at.”

In Tuesday’s organized team activities, Pearsall looked tentative at one point lining up in the left slot and received tips from a fellow receiver on the formation. It’s just part of the learning process, and Pearsall did catch a couple of passes from Brock Purdy.

“He’s definitely got versatility and has the mental acumen to keep up with the coaches,” Florida coach Billy Napier said in a video conference call with Bay Area media a week after the draft. “He will thrive in a professional environment. There won’t be a huge learning curve.”

Shanahan said Pearsall’s progress should be enhanced by the more practice reps he gets during the OTA absences of Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings.

“If you’re talented enough and made of the right stuff, you only get better,” Shanahan said. “But sometimes it’s hard to generate those things, especially in a practice when it’s not full speed all the time and things like that.”

Purdy praised Pearsall’s ability to quickly learn the playbook, not to mention his sure hands and on-field moves. Hankerson admires those qualities, too, but the first thing he looked for was Pearsall’s toughness in making over-the-middle catches in college.

“He’s more polished than the normal college receiver,” Hankers said. “I’m enjoying working with him. I like the mentality he came in with: to work. … He already has that “it” factor and he’s only going to continue to get better.”

Napier said that Pearsall returned for the 2023 season after learning from NFL general managers and scouts he needed to show more physicality and play strength.

Aiyuk got thrust into action more than expected as a rookie, a 2020 season that got waylaid by the 49ers’ rash of injuries, as well as the COVID pandemic. His 60 receptions were three more than Deebo Samuel’s as a 2018 rookie; the 49ers’ rookie record is 83 catches, by then-running back Earl Cooper in 1980.

The 49ers have never had a 1,000-yard rookie receiver. Jerry Rice came closest with 927 yards in 1985.

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