The San Francisco 49ers grabbed a raw-but-intriguing prospect, Baylor wide receiver Jalen Hurd, in the 2019 NFL Draft. What should be expected of him his rookie year?
After the San Francisco 49ers picked up former South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel in Round 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft, many likely thought head coach Kyle Shanahan and Co. were finished adding wideouts to their roster.
Well, those who thought so were wrong.
A round later, Shanahan doubled up on the position, grabbing Baylor wideout Jalen Hurd at No. 67 overall.
Hurd, who transferred from Tennessee to Baylor in 2017, going from running back to wide receiver in the process, is a unique commodity. And while he had to essentially sit out that year as he learned an entirely new position, there are more than a few intangibles to suggest he could become something of a mismatch nightmare at the pro level.
At 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds, Hurd is built almost like a tight end. And while his experience playing wideout is awfully limited, it’s not impossible to see what kind of proverbial “jewel in the making” Shanahan is looking to develop.
How will he go about doing so in 2019?
Why Jalen Hurd Improves in 2019
Nearly everything in Hurd’s NFL.com draft profile suggests he has the tools to thrive as a wide receiver at the pro level. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein also touted Hurd’s abilities to “prove people wrong” after making his position switch, and the reports state he has an excellent work ethic, too.
Those traits will help, as Shanahan’s offense is notoriously complex, and Hurd is already behind the 8-ball understanding the nuances of his relatively new position.
That said, 49ers Webzone’s Rich Madrid broke down the film behind Hurd’s production, highlighting the receiver’s abilities to create yards after the catch, notably due to his prior experience as a running back in crowded spaces.
Hurd’s size advantages also pose problems for defenses as well, particularly in the red zone, in contested situations and as a would-be “big slot” receiver going up against smaller nickel cornerbacks.
If Hurd can master these traits and hone them in, he should have no trouble dominating defenses early on.
Why Jalen Hurd Regresses
While Hurd managed to master his collegiate route tree at Baylor, the complexity of those routes were fairly limited, and there’s no way around the fact he’s tremendously raw at the position still.
It’s likely going to be tough, early on, for Hurd to grasp the complex nature of Shanahan’s offense. A good work ethic should help here, but that doesn’t automatically translate into success. As Madrid also pointed out, Hurd struggles against press coverage, and he’ll likely face a lot of that within the pro ranks.
Hurd also lacks one of Shanahan’s preferred traits: speed. The receiver ran a 4.64 40-yard time at his pro day, and the usual threshold for a faster-end receiver typically falls under 4.50. For a tight end, or at least for a player with mismatch potential, that’s not always bad. It is important to note, however, Hurd was dealing with the aftermath of a minor knee procedure he had last December.
Combined with the other question marks, however, it’s anything but guaranteed Hurd makes a substantial impact anytime soon.
Expected Role with the 49ers in 2019
Barring an injury or complete training camp meltdown, Hurd will safely be on the Niners’ 53-man roster to start the season.
As far as his use, though, it’s anyone’s guess. But Shanahan eluded to some possibilities earlier this offseason, via NBC Sports Bay Area’s Jennifer Lee Chan:
"He can do about everything. We plan on him coming in and being a receiver and working him with that group, but I don’t think that’s where it stops. We will see where his body ends up being here over the years and while he does it, we hope we can give him a few carries here and there."
This suggests Shanahan might deploy Hurd as something of a gadget weapon early on — a specialist on certain plays and in various situations, dependent on matchups and the like.
It wouldn’t be a shock to see Hurd get an uptick in playing time as the season moves along, particularly in red-zone situations or where the game calls for targeting an undersized defensive back in coverage.
Still, the lack of experience likely limits Hurd to these plays only, at least over the first few weeks of 2019. Perhaps longer.
Either way, San Francisco has an intriguing weapon at its disposal. If the pieces come together right, Hurd could be one of the more provocative pieces in Shanahan’s offense over the coming years.