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What Do the 49ers Have in Jalen Hurd?

Justin Wong
Apr 29, 2019 at 7:02 PM2


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Standing atop the third round with the 67th overall pick, many 49ers fans were expecting General Manager John Lynch to look at addressing either the secondary or offensive line; they had just selected wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the second round. Samuel is a great prospect in his own right, but at 5-foot-11, most of his work was done primarily on underneath routes as a slot receiver. It turns out, the 49ers decided to double down on the position.

Enter Baylor receiver Jalen Hurd, an intriguing prospect at 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds who was previously a running back for two seasons with the University of Tennessee before transferring to Baylor—and making the switch to wide receiver. Hurd had to redshirt the 2017 season, but in his brief time at Baylor, he finished the 2018 season with 69 receptions for 946 receiving yards and eight touchdowns—along with 48 carries for 209 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

While I personally feel it was a luxury for the 49ers to invest in developing a prospect like Hurd so early in the draft, there's no doubt about his upside. Hurd brings unique size, length, and athleticism in Kyle Shanahan's offense.


Baylor used him almost exclusively as a slot receiver because it wanted to take advantage of his ability to make plays after the catch. However, looking at his metrics, it makes you wonder just how good he can be at the next level; he could be a future jump-ball monster in the red zone or a creative chess piece as a tight end or running back in certain packages.

If the 49ers wanted a bigger receiver, why didn't they draft Iowa State receiver Hakeem Butler, who was nabbed by Arizona Cardinals atop the fourth round? NFL Analyst Lance Zierlein wrote an excellent write-up on Hurd prior to the draft, and one of the biggest takeaways I get from his draft profile is the promise that his best days may be ahead of him.

Hurd was used as big slot but he might need to transition into a role outside to take advantage of his potential to stretch the field as a downfield ball-winner. He's still learning the nuances of the position, but he has outstanding traits, a great work ethic and an ability to get much better very quickly. While Hurd will be an NFL receiver, he offers a unique option of becoming a short-yardage banger near the goal line. His best days are in front of him.

I get the feeling the 49ers must have felt that Hurd was a better route runner than Butler and has the ability to develop his current skillset to the next level. Looking at the tape, Hurd seems to have a good feel for route leverage with enough physicality to create yards-after-the-catch.


Will the 49ers continue to develop him at wide receiver? Is he better served as a move to tight end? Could they put him at running back on certain packages? At this point, it's too early to tell where he belongs in Shanahan's offense. Nonetheless, many observers are intrigued by Hurd's promise when you look at the film.


As I stated earlier, there were prospects with more established positions at the top of the third round--like Butler at receiver or even San Jose State's Josh Oliver at tight end if they were looking for red zone targets. I like the idea of it all, but I'm concerned that a raw prospect like Hurd would have been better served had they targeted him in the mid rounds of the draft—not with the 67th overall pick. Shanahan has been known to aggressively draft his players when it comes to offense, even if the actual draft value wasn't there. Recent examples include quarterback C.J. Beathard and running back Joe Williams.

Hurd is rightfully labeled as an "offensive weapon" because of his versatility, but I am concerned about having that same positive becoming a negative if the 49ers aren't careful. Look at defensive back Jimmie Ward or defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, who have failed to live up to draft day expectations. Some will argue that their constant position switches hindered their careers while others will simply conclude they're just not good enough, period.

What do the 49ers have in Hurd? Shanahan was adamant in finding more weapons for Jimmy Garoppolo prior to the draft, and they certainly accomplished that—but the actual fit remains to be seen.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


2 Comments

  • william Bruneau
    Nobody seems to realize he is Jucuz... replacement. One who can actually rush, even. This is what Shanahan really wants in an offensive weapon. Perhaps he can afford to keep two on the payroll.
    Apr 29, 2019 at 10:06 PM
    2
  • PJNiner
    Anyone who can rush for almost 1,000 yards and catch for almost a 1,000 yards in a shortened college season at a new position is an athlete! Shanahan has turned less athletic guys into superstars. Imagine an LB trying to cover this guy in the middle or a tiny CB trying to tackle him with a full head of steam. That being said I think we could have gotten him in the fourth and picked up a projected 1st Round corner like Justin Layne or a more athletic, less fragile safety like Harris? But I'm sure our genius head coach and ex-pro bowl safety GM know more about football than all of us fans combined. I haven't been this excited for a season for a long time. Go Niners!
    Apr 29, 2019 at 8:32 PM
    1


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