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49ers hoping Jalen Hurd is ‘full go’ for Week 1, joins evolving receiver group

Sep 2, 2021 at 11:43 AM--

Jalen Hurd is a bit of an unknown. Actually, he's a big unknown. Nevertheless, the San Francisco 49ers like the third-year wide receiver, despite Hurd never having played a regular-season snap during his NFL career. Hurd spent each of his first two seasons on injured reserve and was limited for much of training camp as he attempts to return from the ACL injury that cost him his 2020 campaign.

This past weekend, Hurd finally got onto the football field for the 49ers' preseason finale against the Las Vegas Raiders. He played in 27 snaps, but his 49.2 overall Pro Football Focus grade was the second-lowest among his offensive teammates.

Hurd finished the game with four receptions on six targets for 25 yards. He added a rushing attempt for two yards. It wasn't the spectacular showing that fans had hoped for. Yet, the 49ers feel Hurd has potential, so he made it onto the initial 53-player roster.

Come Week 1, head coach Kyle Shanahan expects to see Hurd on the field, contributing.

"I'm hoping for him to be full go," Shanahan told reporters on Wednesday. "I thought last week he got his most reps in practice. He definitely got his most reps in that game [against the Raiders] too. He ended up getting like 27 reps, which would have been his most in practice too. So, having three days of that was good."

On Wednesday, Hurd was once again limited during practice. However, Shanahan hopes the 25-year-old player gets more opportunities during today's outing in Santa Clara.

"We limited him today," Shanahan said on Wednesday. "He didn't do as much today. Hopefully, we can get more with him tomorrow and have three big practices next week that hopefully shows he's one of the five guys you get up."

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Hurd may represent an evolution for the 49ers wide receiver group. Yes, he can be the same versatile player who the team has always coveted, but he adds size. Hurd is the tallest among the 49ers' six receivers, beating out the next-tallest wideout, Jauan Jennings, by two inches.

The average height of 49ers receivers this season is about three-and-a-half inches taller than the average from Shanahan and general manager John Lynch's initial roster in 2017 when the ability to get separation from defenders was the primary focus while evaluating players.

"I think you always evolve as a group, and you kind of learn together, and I do think that is something right now in football," Lynch told reporters on Wednesday. "Power, being a powerful player at whatever position is really important. And I just think at receiver, there's a trend in the league, despite all the rules, when can you do your work because of the five-yard rule where you can have contact? Everybody tries to get really physical within those five yards. And so, you better have the strength necessary to pull away from people."

San Francisco still covets receivers who can create separation and beat defenders once they have the football in their hands. Just look at recent draft picks Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel. The 49ers are hoping Hurd can prove capable of doing the same while adding size to the mix and providing a little versatility to the group.

"And we probably focused on separators early on, but if they don't have that requisite power, that's difficult [to pull away from defenders]," Lynch continued. "And there's trends that change in the game. And I think we try to adapt. Now having said that, I think now what we love is strong, physical, powerful players who can also separate. And so that's what we've tried to achieve.

"I know a lot's been said about this group, but I really like what this group can become. They have to go do it, but I think we can play a lot of different styles with this group. We can play bully ball and get after you, but these guys are also guys who there's speed in there, there's playmakers in there. So, I like the versatility of the group, and I'm excited about where we are heading into the season."

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