49ers 2020 ‘Who Is?’ series: Jauan Jennings is scary good

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 49ers used their last pick of the 2020 NFL Draft on Jauan Jennings, who despite a sluggish speed, has the physicality to be a massive threat.

San Francisco 49ers rookie wide receiver Jauan Jennings could have been a day-two pick in the 2020 NFL Draft had he run anything better than his horribly slow 4.72 40-yard time at the NFL Scouting Combine. And he certainly would have been had there not been some red-flag warnings about his time at the University of Tennessee.

This prompted earlier ideas Jennings would fall off head coach Kyle Shanahan’s draft board altogether. After all, the head coach puts speed as a high priority for his offense, and Jennings has anything but that.

As things went, however, the Niners elected to use their final pick in the 2020 draft on the 6-foot-3, 212-pound former Volunteer.

Jennings’ red flags stemmed from run-ins with his coaching staff at Tennessee. Despite those, he was still able to produce quite the collegiate career, particularly his senior season:

Jauan Jennings Receiving & Rushing Table

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 7/9/2020.

What’s more impressive was Jennings’ physicality, which included 30 broken tackles on those 59 receptions last year, per Pro Football Focus.

And who could forget that insane Hail Mary touchdown grab he had against Georgia back in 2016?

All told, the Niners are getting a physical receiver who doesn’t need speed to win at the next level. Yet the route from the college ranks to the pros is always a difficult one, particularly for a seventh-round pick, and Jennings is anything but a sure bet to make San Francisco’s 53-man roster.

If he does, how will he get there and what will his expected role in 2020 be?

Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series takes a deeper look.

Why Jauan Jennings improves with 49ers in 2020

Jennings’ physical abilities translate more to just his ability to break tackles. He’ll fight for the ball, using his tall frame to make those 50-50 balls look routine.

Or in the case of that Hail Mary, 80-20 balls.

His hands are solid enough, too, and he possesses the kind of alpha mentality you’d want in a go-to receiver, not unlike former Niners wideout Anquan Boldin during his storied career.

Plus, head coach Kyle Shanahan has traditionally used shorter-statured wide receivers, giving Jennings a leg up (almost literally) over some of his smaller counterparts. From that point, Jennings is more than adept turning catches into tremendous gains with his yards after the catch — a key Shanahan focal point.

If Jennings can display that kind of prowess in training camp and the preseason, it’ll work to his benefit and into the regular season, too.

Why Jauan Jennings regresses with 49ers in 2020

There’s no getting around the speed factor, and Jennings can’t solely rely on his strength going up against bigger, faster, more-refined cornerbacks all the time.

If Shanahan’s receivers don’t have speed, they better have good separation skills and route-running abilities. At best, Jennings is OK here and doesn’t have the most polished route tree in his toolbox. It might take him some time to fully master the nuances of one of the most complex and intricate offenses within the NFL ranks.

The combination of these problems could mean a noticeable difficulty gaining separation and getting open, potentially limiting the kind of impact he could have and relegating him to little more than a gadget-type receiver.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster, projected role in 2020

Jennings’ upside and his unique skill set put him on the stronger side of the bubble, but he’ll still have a lot of work cut out for him.

Injuries to fellow wide receivers Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist) help increase Jennings’ chances a lot between now and Week 1. Another big-bodied receiver, Jalen Hurd, is returning from a serious back injury and figures to be worked in slowly. Yet it’s anyone’s guess if he’s going to provide a substantial impact anytime soon.

If he does, one of the ways in which Shanahan might use him is as a big slot, which is something the head coach did with a tallish wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu, back in 2016 when both were with the Atlanta Falcons.

This could play into Jennings’ benefit, as the majority of nickel cornerbacks are on the shorter side, almost immediately giving Jennings a substantial size advantage over the shorter defensive backs covering him.

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Still, it’ll be up to Jennings to capitalize on both his skill set and the opportunity. If he does, the 49ers could wind up getting a mismatch nightmare capable of offering the kind of prowess Shanahan doesn’t exactly have elsewhere at his disposal.