The San Francisco 49ers used their last 2020 NFL Draft pick on wide receiver Jauan Jennings, which could mean second-year pro Jalen Hurd might miss a roster spot.
There’s a lot of time between now and the regular season, but San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd just saw his chances of becoming an impact player in 2020 take a notable hit via the NFL Draft over the weekend.
Namely because the Niners brought in two notable wide receivers: Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk and Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings, the former with the No. 25 overall pick in Round 1 and the latter with the team’s final pick in Round 7.
Aiyuk, being a first-round selection, will be afforded nearly every chance to make an impact right away. Jennings, however, presents the more provocative challenge to Hurd between now and Week 1.
Hurd suffered a back injury last year during the preseason, which ultimately forced him to miss all of 2019, essentially redshirting his rookie year. His raw skills and traits were what ultimately convinced San Francisco to select him in Round 3 of last year’s NFL Draft, as head coach Kyle Shanahan sought to maximize his large 6-foot-4, 227-pound frame.
Jennings, while slightly smaller, does have a similar build at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. And there’s no questioning the former Volunteer receiver’s physicality, which is one of the traits standing out beyond his otherwise unimpressive straight-line speed.
The Niners bringing Jennings aboard presents a challenge to Hurd moving forward.
For starters, San Francisco would like its big-bodied receivers to be excellent red-zone targets, which Shanahan needs after his offense finished 20th in red-zone touchdown efficiency a year ago. Jennings was a touchdown machine last year, putting up nine combined touchdowns through the air and on the ground.
Hurd, meanwhile, has yet to take a regular-season NFL snap.
Granted, neither has Jennings. But Hurd’s back injury works against him in this case, too. And it’s something general manager John Lynch told reporters (h/t 49ers Webzone) during the NFL Draft.
“We’re ramping him up, and we are very optimistic,” Lynch said of Hurd. “I don’t want to be overly optimistic because, last year, we saw some progress, and we had some setbacks.”
Interestingly enough, Hurd’s back injury prevented him from accompanying the team to Super Bowl LIV in Miami last February.
“Jalen knows full-well that he needs to work his tail off so he can get back and be a big contributor, and try to earn opportunities to be a contributor for our team moving forward,” Lynch continued. “We love his skill set. We love his mindset. Now, it’s time to put it all to work.”
It’s also important to consider Hurd isn’t a natural wide receiver by trade. He spent his first three collegiate years as a running back at Tennessee before transferring to Baylor in 2017, sitting out that year before becoming a wideout in 2018. By that account, he’s still awfully raw to the position, whereas Jennings spent five years, including one redshirted year, at the position.
All said, Jennings won’t have any guarantees making the roster, being a seventh-round pick. But that parallels the possibility Hurd also never steps on the field despite being a third-round choice, largely due to his injury and relative lack of experience at wide receiver.
Jennings’ presence also clouds Hurd’s chances, too.