While the 49ers may seek depth upgrades at wide receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft, they won’t be looking to outright replace Jauan Jennings.
Yes, the San Francisco 49ers could use a No. 3 wide receiver to pair with their top-two options at the position, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk.
But, no, they won’t be seeking a true replacement in the 2022 NFL Draft for the player who effectively held that spot down in 2021, Jauan Jennings.
We can get cute about actual rankings on a depth chart, and Jennings might not fit the bill for a true slot-receiver option. He’s not overly shifty, and he’s certainly not fast.
Jennings is, however, physical.
Fans may recall each one of Jennings’ 24 regular-season receptions in 2021, 10 of which came on third downs with an excellent 90.9 catch percentage on 11 targets in those situations. Each of those grabs sure seemed like big-time plays at crucial moments, too.
However, that’s not the sole reason why the Niners are starting to value Jennings’ presence.
Why Jauan Jennings will remain important to 49ers in 2022
Sure, so many of Jennings’ catches last season were important. Great for him after being relegated to the practice squad his rookie season.
Yet it’s the 6-foot-3, 212-pound wideout’s physicality that should catch the eye here.
Check out this note from Pro Football Focus’ Jeff Deeney:
Expanding on PFF’s data, Jennings’ 83.5 run-blocking grade from 2021 ranked third best out of all San Francisco players who appeared on at least 20 percent of the team’s running snaps, and that’s not just among non-offensive linemen.
Third best out of the entire lot. Only left tackle Trent Williams and backup lineman Tom Compton ranked higher.
Wide receivers engaging in blocks when they’re not going to be a primary target is a thankless job. Those efforts won’t show up in traditional stats, and they rarely factor into a player’s contractual discussions like receptions, yards, touchdowns and Pro Bowls, etc., do. Yet head coach Kyle Shanahan wants his receivers to be complete players. So did former offensive coordinator, turned-Miami Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel.
Jennings did a lot of that thankless work and did it to a high level.
Just like the last two drafts, including the one in which Jennings was originally drafted, the 2022 crop has plenty of receiving talent, and the 49ers may want to dip into that to help supplement what’s still a questionable depth group heading into 2022.
However, thanks to his run-blocking prowess, it sure doesn’t appear as if the Niners will look to outright replace him this offseason.
As such, Jennings is safe to stay on the roster this season.