Jauan Jennings should make 49ers 53-man roster in 2020

Jauan Jennings #15 of the Tennessee Volunteers (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images)
Jauan Jennings #15 of the Tennessee Volunteers (Photo by Silas Walker/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers used their final 2020 NFL Draft pick on Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings, and he stands an excellent chance to make the regular-season roster.

Jauan Jennings is the newest wide receiver addition for the San Francisco 49ers.

Having been selected with the Niners’ final pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, there’s no easy guarantee the former Tennessee wideout make the regular-season roster. Jennings won’t be afforded the same luxuries and chances given to rookie prospects selected much earlier, such as San Francisco’s first-round pick, Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.

Jennings falling to San Francisco is a steal in of itself, honestly. Before his terribly slow 4.72 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine, Jennings was likely viewed as a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick. Some character concerns and red flags didn’t help matters.

But that’s not why Jennings should be safe to make the 49ers’ 53-man roster right away this season.

Speed isn’t part of Jennings’ game. It never has been. Yet that’s not why head coach Kyle Shanahan targeted the 6-foot-3, 215-pound wideout.

For starters, Jennings’ production his senior year despite less-than-stellar quarterbacking suggests he’s a go-to target. And with 13 percent of his receptions last year being touchdowns, the hope is San Francisco can turn Jennings into a legitimate scoring threat.

Jauan Jennings Receiving & Rushing Table

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 5/2/2020.

But the reasons have to go far beyond the mere stats. Thankfully, they do.

49ers prized Jauan Jennings for his strength, not speed

Usually, Shanahan puts a high priority on speed. So it would seem Jennings shouldn’t have been on the head coach’s radar.

Not if one looks at Jennings as Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller did: a “small tight end.”

Miller’s scouting report highlighted Jennings’ ability to break tackles, something which helped him break 30 tackles on his 59 catches, according to Pro Football Focus, who just so happened to list Jennings as one of the NFL Draft’s biggest steals. Forget the touchdowns on catches, just look at the breakaways.

And while highlight reels are just that, this strength and physicality shows up on tape, too:

This suggests a shift from Shanahan’s previous tactic of targeting shifty, finesse-like wide receivers like the 2018 selection of Dante Pettis.

Jennings is a good enough route runner, yes. But he’ll win with his physicality first, which is something the Niners were sorely lacking until the 2019 addition of fellow wideout Deebo Samuel.

How 49ers will use Jauan Jennings

Again, there’s no easy path for a seventh-round draft pick. But Jennings could fill a unique niche for Shanahan’s offense.

In the past, Shanahan has described how slot receivers don’t have to be the smaller, shiftier types so often associated with other NFL offenses. When Shanahan was with the Atlanta Falcons, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Mohamed Sanu served as a big slot. Likewise, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has often been featured out of the slot, too.

That’s probably a good role for Jennings, particularly down in the red zone where San Francisco ranked 20th in touchdown efficiency last season.

Jennings might not be an every-down player, especially with Samuel and Aiyuk eating up the majority of snaps.

Yet it is possible, perhaps likely Shanahan wants to deploy Jennings in these specific situations out of the slot, allowing the receiver to use his body in key short-area one-on-one matchups.

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And if Jennings can command these kinds of reps in training camp and the preseason, there’s no reason to assume he’ll be off the regular-season roster later this year.