After landing three pass-catchers in the 2023 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers used their 90th and final roster spot on Isaiah Winstead, a 6-foot-4, 213-pound wide receiver from East Carolina. Though he didn’t initially agree to sign with any team immediately following the draft, with his deal in San Francisco not coming until May, Winstead was able to find an NFL home in an unlikely way: Twitter.
After failing to land a contract after the initial wave of free agent singing following the draft, Winstead took to his Twitter account and petitioned his 5,000-plus fans to share a message to potential teams looking to add a wide receiver to their roster.
“6’4 210 moving like this,” Winstead wrote in an April 30 tweet that also featured his highlight reel. “No mini-camp invite or UDFA deal. Behind the scenes on what I can do. With 88 catches & 1100 yds this past season… God makes no mistakes tho, thank you in advance.”
Winstead’s tweet was viewed 4.6 million times, with fans from all over the NFL asking their favorite team to sign with him. While it’s impossible to know if this viral tweet led to the 49ers signing Winstead, it did provide the ECU wide receiver with a much bigger platform than he had previously and, as a result, got his tape in front of millions of eyes, including 49ers general manager John Lynch and writer Wayne Breezie on Twitter.
Isaiah Winstead Finally Found a Home at ECU
Initially beginning his college career at Norfolk States, it took Winstead five years and three universities to really break out in college football, surpassing 1,000 yards for the first time as a graduate transfer at ECU in 2022.
“Winstead (6-4, 213) appeared in 13 games at East Carolina University in 2022 where he registered 88 receptions for 1,085 yards and six touchdowns and earned All-American Athletic Conference Honorable Mention honors,” the 49ers wrote in their announcement of the signing.
“Winstead transferred to ECU from the University of Toledo (2019-21), where he appeared in 19 games and registered 63 receptions for 949 yards and four touchdowns. He joined Toledo from Norfolk State University (2017-18) where he appeared in 22 games (12 starts) and caught 83 passes for 977 yards and eight touchdowns.”
Though there’s no guarantee Winstead finds success in the NFL, or even makes the 49ers’ roster for that matter, the collegiate Spartan/Rocket/Pirate earned his opportunity at a professional career; all he has to do now is beat out as many as eight wide receivers for a spot on the 53 man roster.
The 49ers Have a Wealth of Options at WR
After signing Winstead, the 49ers now have 13 wide receivers under contract heading into camp, with three of those players, Winstead, fellow UDFA Shae Wyatt, and 2023 seventh-round pick Ronnie Bell all set to begin their careers as rookies.
Though the team largely kept just five wide receivers on the active roster in 2022, with Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, and Ray-Ray McCloud all on the 53-man roster for the full 17-game regular season slate, the team did elevate vets on multiple occasions, with Willie Snead IV, Malik Turner, and Tay Martin all appearing in multiple games coming off the practice squad.
If Winstead earns a spot on the practice squad, either over players like Wyatt, Bell and Snead IV, or alongside them, there’s a chance he could earn playing time either on offense or special teams and potentially earn further opportunities as a result.