While his rookie season might have been disappointing, 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings came on strong in 2021, and that bodes well for him moving forward.
San Francisco 49ers third-year wide receiver Jauan Jennings has had a tumultuous trip from his collegiate days at Tennessee to the pros.
We might recall how a painfully sluggish 4.73 40-yard time at his 2020 NFL Scouting Combine workouts dropped his draft stock, and we even argued the Niners potentially removed him from their pre-draft radar as a result.
They didn’t, though, making Jennings their final pick in Round 7 of that year’s draft.
Jennings didn’t play his rookie season, however, as the 6-foot-3 and 215-pound wideout struggled to separate in training camp before subsequently landing on the practice squad and then injured reserve.
2021 was different, however.
On the surface, a regular-season stat line of 24 catches for 282 yards and five touchdowns might not be overly impressive.
However, anyone who watched San Francisco’s games over the course of last season can attest to just how big an impact Jennings had in key situations.
And there are numbers to back that up, too.
Let’s take a look at how those numbers and that usage might trigger an even more impressive 2022 campaign for the former Volunteer.
Why Jauan Jennings improves for 49ers in 2022
Jennings was never a speed threat in college, but he did make himself known for his physicality, both in terms of breaking tackles and not being afraid to take on blocks.
His blocking prowess stood out last year, too, as he earned a whopping 84.5 run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. That’s elite-level right there.
If you’re unsure, just ask Dallas Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs.
Blocking will surely earn Jennings more field time even if he’s not a primary go-to target. Yet when he is targeted, look for Jennings to revert back into that big-bodied third-down weapon.
Case in point, on 11 third-down attempts last year, he recorded 10 of them for catches with eight of them going for first downs. That’ll be crucial for someone like second-year quarterback Trey Lance, who’ll likely look at bigger targets such as Jennings when other top options, like All-Pro wide receiver Deebo Samuel, are covered.
Why Jauan Jennings regresses with 49ers this season
Possession-type receivers typically stay pretty consistent on a year-to-year basis, so it’s hard to find any legitimate concern about Jennings regressing.
However, the 49ers did infuse some new blood into the wide receiver room by adding former Pittsburgh Steelers return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud and then drafting former SMU speedster Danny Gray to serve as a deep threat.
Neither will assume the same kind of role Jennings had, but it’s possible both wind up cutting into what few targets Jennings would otherwise have.
Plus, with Lance and his strong arm looking to exploit all levels of opposing defenses, Jennings’ lack of straight-line speed isn’t going to play a factor in a downfield attack.
Jauan Jennings’ role, projected impact with Niners
The Niners have preferable rights over Jennings for the next two years, him being a restricted free agent in 2023, and he’ll cost up to $825,000 on his current contract.
That’s a notable bargain for a player who likely amounts to a No. 3 wide receiver in today’s pass-happy NFL, and one should expect that will be his role in 2022, too, behind Samuel and fellow wideout Brandon Aiyuk.
While Gray and/or McCloud may assume down-the-field duties, having a possession receiver who can use physicality to pick up first downs or convert within the red zone is always highly prized, and it’s likely Jennings won’t face any significant competition for that job in training camp.
From a statistical vantage point, one shouldn’t expect Jennings’ numbers to increase dramatically over what he produced in 2021, but it would be fair to see him wind up with even more of those big-time plays he had so often over the course of last season.
San Francisco is better off because of them.