SF 49ers rookie wide receiver Jauan Jennings could be a steal from the NFL Draft, yet his early training camp efforts haven’t matched the hype.
No, this isn’t a knock on SF 49ers rookie wide receiver Jauan Jennings. If anything, the 6-foot-3 first-year wideout of the University of Tennessee could be a massive star in the making. And if it weren’t for a painfully slow 40-yard time back at the NFL Scouting Combine last spring, Jennings likely would have been a third- or fourth-round pick at worst.
As things went, however, the Niners picked Jennings up in Round 7 of last April’s draft. Despite Jennings not possessing the speed head coach Kyle Shanahan would otherwise like, the fact Jennings broke 30 tackles on 59 receptions last season suggests strength and physicality are becoming more important to Shanahan’s arsenal of impact players.
One of the problems, however, is Jennings didn’t get the benefit of playing through rookie minicamps and organized team activities. While minicamps and OTAs aren’t anywhere near as necessary for SF 49ers veteran players, they can be critical in a first-year player’s development.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 wiped out all but the electronic, remote versions of these practices.
True, Jennings has an exceptional hype video — one SF 49ers Vice President of Player Personnel Adam Peters called, “the best highlight video I’ve ever seen on YouTube.”
Yeah, pretty cool. And it’s pretty intimidating if Jennings puts it all together.
The problem, though, is a hype video is just like finding players’ YouTube highlight reels from college and using those as viable scouting reports. Every player taken in the draft, or selected as an undrafted member afterwards, is likely to have at least one highlight reel. As far as using them for definitive scouting purposes, they only showcase the best in player talents. Not the whole picture.
And that seems to be the case for Jennings over the first week-plus of training camp.
SF 49ers training camp revealing Jauan Jennings needs refinement
Shanahan’s offense puts more pressure on wide receivers than nearly any other position aside from, perhaps, the quarterback. And even that’s arguable.
If not speed, proper route-running and separation skills are going to be the key factors for any Shanahan wideout, and Jennings hasn’t exactly grasped the complexity of these routes.
Sports Illustrated’s Jose Sanchez broked down some of the specifics of Jennings’ disappointments:
"Jennings has not looked good. He has had a sweet play here and there, but he cannot find a hot streak for the life of him. It is actually quite disappointing because I had a bit more hope for Jennings. And given the current state of the wide receiver position, there is no better time for him to impress the coaches. He is definitely hurting from the lack of offseason practices."
True, the Niners are dealing with more than a handful of question marks at wide receiver. Deebo Samuel (foot) and Richie James (wrist) are in danger of missing the regular-season opener in September against the Arizona Cardinals. Rookie wideout Brandon Aiyuk, one of the 49ers’ two first-round picks in this year’s draft, is likely to miss the rest of camp with a hamstring strain.
Needless to say, the opportunity has been there for Jennings to separate himself from the rest of San Francisco’s supporting cast at the position.
Those flash plays are promising, yes. But Shanahan won’t simply give Jennings a roster spot based on those alone. No, Jennings will need to showcase the traits other wide receivers have better flashed: consistency, route running, separation and good hands.
If not, Jennings’ efforts in camp will be marred by the occasional highlight-reel play followed by the relatively pedestrian showings elsewhere.
Granted, Jennings might need a bit of refinement to fully live up to what he could potentially be at the NFL level: a strong-bodied pass-catcher capable of breaking tackles with regularity.
But the other minute details need to come together first. Until they do, Jennings is by no means guaranteed a spot on the 53-man roster.