49ers roster 2021: A forgotten wide receiver, Jalen Hurd

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) /

If he can stay healthy, 49ers third-year wide receiver Jalen Hurd can carve out a niche for himself in 2021, but health hasn’t been on his side at all.

Football is filled with “what if?” questions, and the San Francisco 49ers‘ third-round selection of former Baylor wide receiver Jalen Hurd in the 2019 NFL Draft needs no introduction to that fact.

Taken at No. 67 overall that year, Hurd already entered the league with question marks, namely the fact he was a converted wide receiver during his final college year at Baylor who spent 2014 through 2016 at Tennessee playing as a running back.

Right there alone, one could have safely wondered if the Niners were reaching for a player relatively new to the position.

Or, for the hopeful, Hurd would be one of those athletic specimens — a pass-catching wideout with the elusiveness and physicality of a big-bodied running back.

Jalen Hurd College Rushing & Receiving Table
*2018BaylorBig 12SRWR12482094.436994613.7411711559.97

Provided by CFB at Sports Reference
Generated 6/24/2021.

At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, it’s not hard to understand the latter.

Despite flashing some moments of brilliance during the preseason his rookie year, including two touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys, Hurd suffered a serious back injury that would land him on injured reserve and even prevented him from traveling with San Francisco to Miami for Super Bowl LIV.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Hurd then suffered a torn ACL during training camp his second year, effectively ending his 2020 follow-up campaign.

Meaning Hurd has yet to take a regular-season snap at the NFL level.

Related Story: Jalen Hurd’s last chance with 49ers

Now entering year three and finding himself buried deep on a revamped 49ers wide receiver depth chart, is 2021 the year in which Hurd breaks out from the forgotten ranks? Or will this year be the frustrating end to his Niners tenure?

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

Why Jalen Hurd finally gets his break with 49ers in 2021

It would be one thing if San Francisco stockpiled potential replacements for Hurd on the depth chart, namely as a big-bodied wide receiver who can play out either on the boundary or from the slot.

Yet the 49ers lost their No. 3 wide receiver from the last four years, Kendrick Bourne, to free agency. And the lack of a proven third-tier target could open things up for Hurd to ascend the depth chart.

Plus, at least in the brief sample size from the 2019 preseason, it wasn’t hard to see how Hurd could use his imposing size to overpower smaller defensive backs. A wide receiver with a running back’s mindset, Hurd has the physical tools to be a mismatch nightmare still, even if the first two years of his pro career haven’t gone according to plan.

Why Jalen Hurd runs out of chances with 49ers in 2021

While reports were scant, it didn’t appear as if Hurd was getting in any workouts during San Francisco’s organized team activities.

No, Hurd apparently spent the practices working out with trainers on the sidelines, understandable given the nature of his ACL tear a year ago but also not a good sign for him being able to contribute anytime soon.

Even if Hurd returns in time for training camp, he’ll still have to get his proverbial “football legs” back underneath him.

And the fact he’s been off the field for almost two years now, combined with just one collegiate year of wide receiver experience, doesn’t bode well for him.

At all.

Chances of making 49ers’ 53-man roster

One could make the argument the 49ers looked to replace Hurd in 2020 with another big-bodied wide receiver, Jauan Jennings, taken in Round 7 of that year’s NFL Draft. And this year, the Niners added another 6-foot-3 receiver in the undrafted Austin Watkins.

Jennings stood out as a big slot during OTAs, so one could assume he’s higher than Hurd on a would-be depth chart, assuming the latter is healthy enough for camp. But the roster is made even more crowded, thanks to veteran wideout Mohamed Sanu also making positive strides during OTAs, too.

Both those players are Jennings-like receivers: well above 6-foot with some physicality on their side. And unlike Hurd, they both have a lengthy bit of experience playing the position.

Hurd could still be considered a dark-horse candidate for the No. 3 wide receiver role, but his best shot is likely as a back-end reserve piece on the 53-man roster. Perhaps even a weekly inactive.

Even that could be considered something of a long shot, though.

Hurd not being on the field during OTAs hurts his stock a lot. Those are more valuable reps missed and fewer opportunities for him to showcase his diminishing value.

Whether or not he can bounce out of that status and away from San Francisco’s forgotten ranks of draft misses is anyone’s guess, but the early signs for 2021 aren’t looking too promising.

Next. 10 high-profile 49ers draft picks who never panned out. dark