49ers news: Pro Football Focus wants Jalen Hurd to succeed most

Jalen Hurd #17 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Jalen Hurd #17 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images) /

The 49ers have a number of open-ended questions at wide receiver, and Pro Football Focus thinks second-year pro Jalen Hurd can answer them.

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd is hitting a crossroads entering 2020.

On one hand, it’s only his second season at the pro level after being selected by the Niners in Round 3 of the 2019 NFL Draft. On the other, there are awfully a lot of expectations being placed on such a player who has yet to take a single regular-season snap in the NFL.

And now, Pro Football Focus is adding to those expectations.

PFF just released its comprehensive preview for all 32 teams across the league entering this season, and San Francisco’s own preview is certainly telling. From the outside perspective, it’s pretty fair. PFF looks at Jimmy Garoppolo as a system quarterback, while the wide receiver crop is the weakest position on the roster despite the 49ers’ numerous efforts to reinforce it via the NFL Draft the past four years.

One of those, of course, was Hurd.

Hurd missed his rookie season, being sidelined with a serious back injury that prevented him from even traveling with the team to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida. But that opening preseason game between the Niners and Dallas Cowboys surely showed a lot of promise, particularly with Hurd recording two touchdowns:

PFF is now buying into the idea Hurd will develop into a prime offensive feature for San Francisco:

"Hurd was making waves early last season before getting injured and missing the entire rest of the year, but if he’s healthy, there are opportunities to be had within this offense. Hurd was a running back at Tennessee and a slot receiver at Baylor, and at 6-foot-4, 227 pounds, he has quite the unique skill set. Given Hurd’s youth at wide receiver, he has work to do with the nuances of the position. However, he can line up all over the formation, and his running back skills could become an asset in an offense that finds ball carriers from all over."

The 49ers lost a top wide receiver during the offseason, Emmanuel Sanders, to free agency. Deebo Samuel, who came on strong once the Niners acquired Sanders in the middle of 2019, is banged up with a Jones fracture in his foot and might miss the first few weeks of the season. San Francisco added two wideouts in this year’s draft, Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings, yet it’s hard to peg where their respective roles will fall under head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Simply stated, Hurd is now in that category with Aiyuk and Jennings, the former only having an added offseason of preparation and some limited pro-level experience from the 2019 preseason.

Plus, Hurd was a former running back at the collegiate level, as PFF pointed out. This means two things, Hurd runs like a tailback with the ball in his hands, and that’s a bonus. But it also means he’s relatively inexperienced at wide receiver, and learning one of the most complex offensive systems in the NFL won’t be easy.

Once this entire unit is healthy, it’s likely Shanahan will want both Samuel and Aiyuk to assume the Nos. 1 and 2 spots on the depth chart. The slot role could be completely open up for grabs, perhaps Hurd or Jennings being a big-slot option — something Shanahan did before with veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu back with the Atlanta Falcons.

Or it could be fourth-year pro Trent Taylor, who has chemistry with Garoppolo and also spent all of 2019 on injured reserve alongside Hurd.

Next. 49ers depth chart: 4 offensive players on roster bubble. dark

For Hurd, perhaps the best thing would be to simply stay healthy and make some noticeable-if-slight improvements to his game. Maybe expecting him to be a massive contributor this season is a bit too premature.