49ers roster: Jauan Jennings an early favorite for No. 3 receiver?

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s early, and 49ers OTAs don’t mean much, but second-year pro Jauan Jennings seems to be doing all the right things during initial workouts.

Last year, it was pretty apparent the San Francisco 49ers‘ final pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, former Tennessee wide receiver Jauan Jennings, was hindered by the fact the pandemic eliminated on-field workouts during rookie minicamps and organized team activities.

As a result, Jennings struggled in his training camp workouts and had difficulty mastering the nuances of a complex pro-style offense, ultimately resulting in him missing out on the 53-man roster and being placed on the practice squad, where he’d eventually be sidelined with a serious hamstring injury.

Heading into 2021, however, signs are pointing towards Jennings engineering a turnaround.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver, known more for breaking tackles and his physicality rather than his speed, has apparently shaken off the notion he’s a far-from-polished rookie receiver and is trending towards potentially earning the coveted No. 3 wide receiver role on the Niners depth chart.

At least according to Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn, who broke down one of Jennings’ performance efforts during the initial week of San Francisco’s OTA sessions:

"Beat starting nickelback K’Waun Williams down the seam for a 25-yard catch during seven-on-sevens. Garoppolo threw the pass. Jennings looks like he’s in much better shape than he was a year ago as a rookie. He looks stronger and faster. Maybe he will be the slot receiver who replaces Kendrick Bourne."

The 49ers do need a tertiary wideout to replace Bourne, who left this offseason in free agency for a new deal with the New England Patriots. While Bourne primarily played in the shadow of the Niners’ top two wide receivers last season, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, Bourne was usually good for at least one or two key catches per game, primarily in the red zone or on third downs where physicality often meant the difference between scoring and moving the chains or not doing so.

Jauan Jennings has a way to go, but the signs are pointing up for 49ers

Jennings isn’t alone in his competition, and the fact there’s no physical contact at OTAs means the second-year pro won’t be tested in press coverage anytime soon.

If there’s good news there, though, Jennings made a habit of breaking tackles in college, recording an impressive 29 of them on 57 receptions his final year in 2019.

Related Story: 5 players under most pressure to perform during 49ers OTAs

The lack of straight-line speed could still be a concern, though, as that was one of the traits that forced him to fall all the way to Round 7 of last year’s draft. In comparison, however, Bourne wasn’t exactly the fastest receiver on San Francisco’s depth chart the last four years, so it’s not necessarily a mark against Jennings.

As Niner Noise pointed out earlier, Jennings is far from being viewed as a top contender for the No. 3 wide receiver role currently up for grabs. But the good news early on is that no other wide receiver has exactly cemented himself into this spot either, meaning Jennings’ noticeable efforts thus far have arguably put him towards the top of the competition.

Considering where he was a year ago at this time, it’s not a bad position for Jennings to be in.

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