Today we take a look at the film of rookie receiver Jalen Hurd of Baylor.


The 49ers made a surprise pick with their third round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft (67th overall) by selecting receiver Jalen Hurd out of Baylor. Presumably, the 49ers could've drafted Hurd in the later rounds with receivers like Terry McLaurin, Riley Ridley, and Hakeem Butler all still on the board after Hurd was selected. However, it's easy to see why head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch went the route they did with Hurd.

Hurd is an interesting prospect who offers a lot of length, size, and versatility. He originally entered his college career as a running back at the University of Tennessee where he shared backfield duties with current New Orleans Saints start Alvin Kamara. At Tennessee, Hurd's playing weight was 240 pounds. At 6-foot-4-inches, that's intimidating size for a running back.



Midway through his junior season at Tennessee, Hurd elected to transfer, despite being projected as an early to mid first round pick in the 2017 draft, leaving analysts and scouts to ask why he'd ever leave that behind. In an interview with Bleacher Report in 2018, he stated:

"I didn't just do this on a whim. I researched it," Hurd said. "Running backs last 3.5 years in the NFL. Wide receivers can last 10 or more years. Receivers are more valued than running backs in the NFL, and I can play this game a lot longer and can be more valuable as a receiver. It's not just a position and career change, it's a life change."

Ultimately, Hurd put his own health ahead of his career and decided that the turning point was after a game against Appalachian State, during which Hurd, in the same interview, stated that his body ached like it never had before. Hurd eventually had a falling out with the coaching staff after asking to be used more on the perimeter as a receiving back. He was then benched after celebrating a would-be touchdown during which he slow-jogged to the end zone, fumbling just before reaching it.

He then suffered a concussion and was held out of the next game for concussion protocol and an undisclosed ankle injury. Against South Carolina, he eventually benched himself before announcing later that weekend that he would be transferring from Tennessee. The record is less clear why.



Nonetheless, Hurd parlayed his career into a third round pick after one season at the receiver position for Baylor (he sat out the entire 2017 season) where he racked up 69 receptions for 946 yards and four touchdowns to go along with his three rushing touchdowns as a running back in certain packages in Matt Rhule's offense.

Kyle Shanahan certainly likes Hurd's versatility, saying "I mean, he can do about everything." Right now, Shanahan envisions him as a receiver so that's where he's going to stay but did leave open the possibility later on of seeing where else he can be used. He did also state that Hurd likely won't see any time at the running back spot though his versatility back there won't be so easily dismissed:

"What we're trying to say is it's pretty neat when you have a guy who demands nickel defense on the field because he can beat a linebacker in coverages, but has the ability to go back and take a handoff here and there. It's kind of neat when you can be in 11-personnel on third down, and if you want, you can be in 21-personnel. It just depends on how you want to lineup and what the guys are capable of doing."

What exactly is it that Hurd brings to the table and why did the 49ers go get him with their third pick?

Where he wins


As a running back

Hurd likely won't see much time at the running back spot unless it's a package of plays Shanahan has specifically installed for him as a runner or receiver out of the backfield or unless the running back position takes another hit with injuries like last season. Having a versatile player like Hurd who can line up and play multiple positions is certainly a positive for a team looking to spark its offense this season.



Running the inside zone against Florida here, Hurd's run goes for a gain of 16 yards. He shows that, as a running back, he is extremely tough to bring down (his height and weight as a running back at Tennessee was 6-foot-4-inches and 240 pounds). He shows nice burst through the hole, a jump cut to make a defender miss, then down the sideline before going out of bounds.

Another aspect of his ability as a runner (and a receiver) is his ability to make defenders miss tackles. A combination of his length and size make it very unattractive for a defender to try to take him head-on.



Tennessee is running the "counter G-Y" play here, where the backside guard (G) and the backside tight end (Y) lead block to the play side. Hurd hits the hole and makes at least four defenders miss tackles as they try to tackle him up high. It's not so much being shifty with fast footwork as it is him lowering his center of gravity while keep his leg drive moving up field.

Vision is another trait he displays as a runner that not only serves him well as a running back, but translates to the receiver position and gives him the ability to locate space before he cuts to it.



The play call here is a "duo" run to the weak side. Duo is characterized as "power without the pull" as the two double team blocks on the front side by the guard and tackle and by the center and backside guard seek to open the B-gap so the running back can read the middle linebacker. The running back will press the A-gap while looking to the B-gap for a potential running lane.

The Florida middle linebacker squeezes the A-gap in the direction of the blocking so Hurd bounces outside to the B-gap as the rest of the defenders squeeze the middle of the offense. As Hurd hits the open gap, there is no defender to challenge him and he strides into the end zone untouched for six.

Route running

While Hurd doesn't have the biggest route tree like someone like Dante Pettis or even Deebo Samuel, his selection does seem to indicate that Shanahan is looking to add the "big slot" receiver to his offense. The "big slot," in the words of The Athletic's Ted Nguyen (subscription required) is someone who "doesn't create as much separation as his smaller counterpart, but he has to have the same feel for finding open spaces and using his big body to protect passes."

Hurd primarily played in the slot at Baylor and was efficient at finding the open space on crossing routes and out routes.



One way Shanahan likes to create space with routes is by having receivers sell a different stem before cutting out. Hurd is running a "blaze out" where the receiver runs up field on a vertical stem for about seven or eight yards, cuts to the post for two or three steps, and then abruptly cuts back out toward the sideline. Shanahan has run this route with shiftier, speedier receivers like Marquise Goodwin (above), Julio Jones, and Dante Pettis.

While Hurd doesn't have Goodwin or Pettis speed, he is equally effective at selling this route. A receiver who can't rely on speed must be able to be more nuanced in his technique. Hurd demonstrates this as he vertically attacks the defender's outside shoulder (stemming) before cutting on the post and turning his head to look for the pass. The defender drives on the receiver at this point as he's expecting to break up the pass. But Hurd quickly and sharply cuts back out toward the sideline, catches the pass and quickly turns up field.



As the third receiver in the trips formation, the inside slot position, Hurd is running another out route here. As he drives the vertical stem and gets the defender to turn and run with him, he cuts sharply out and away from the leverage the defender has on his inside hip. The out cut on the defender's feet creates just enough separation for Hurd to get open for the catch and turn up field before being tackled.

On shorter out cuts, he still shows an ability to sell a vertical route before cutting out to create separation.



Here, Hurd stems the defender, getting him to stay square and delay committing to any particular route. As he pushes vertical, he threatens the inside to get the defender to turn. As he eats the defender's cushion with his release, the defender takes inside leverage as Hurd cuts out sharply. The defender turns to run vertically as Hurd cuts away and back toward the line of scrimmage to create separation and prevent the defender from disrupting the pass.

Transition to a runner and yards after catch

Hurd's ability as a runner undoubtedly comes from his ability to play running back. Here he uses his running back skill set to quickly transition to a runner after securing the pass, quickly looking for space to run. In my own opinion, his quick transition ability and run after the catch are his best traits and it's easy to see why Shanahan took a chance on drafting him.



Hurd is out to the left here in the slot again, in tight to the formation. He's running a "slide" route where he leaks out behind the offensive line to the opposite flat. It's a good way to get him space and this type of concept is in Shanahan's playbook (George Kittle on the slide route here). As soon as he catches the pass, he immediately gets up field. In fact, he hasn't even secured the ball yet by the time he turns up field.



His catch radius is ideal for a tall receiver as well. On this play, the pass is well behind him but he makes a nice adjustment to catch and secure before turning up field. Ideally, you'd like him to get lower and fight through the tackle by shifting his center of gravity to pick up the first down, but nonetheless, he gives his offense a manageable third down to convert.

He can also make catches in traffic and still pick up yards after the catch by making defenders miss, another where his skill set as a running back comes in handy.



Again from the slot, just inside the numbers, Hurd is running a speed in route, or dig route. He stems the defender on his vertical stem, and once inside the defender's cushion, cuts sharply to the middle of the field near the hash. After the catch and a quick transition, he makes two defenders miss and drags another for a few more yards.

Above all else, Shanahan likes receivers who can utilize open space after the catch.



Here, Hurd runs a quick five yard hitch from the inside slot position. After he catches and secures the pass, he quickly makes two defenders miss in the open field before racing for another big gain.

Catches in traffic

Hurd isn't afraid to catch passes in traffic either.



At all levels of the field over the middle, Baylor used Hurd as a big body slot receiver to make the difficult catches in traffic. Because of his length and size, he's able to pluck the ball out of the air, tuck, and turn to get up field. The first few defenders usually bounced off him before he was brought down.

As the underneath crossing route on the mesh play, he has the ability to maintain concentration at the catch point with the defender driving on the route.



He shows the awareness to avoid the collision while sprinting to his landmark on the shallow cross. As the defender arrives, he's able to shield himself from the pass breakup, quickly secures the pass, and turns up field to gain more yardage.

Red zone target

The longstanding cliche in the NFL is that a team needs a tall or big red zone target to be successful in the red zone. This is wrong for a plethora of reasons, mostly because there are a variety of ways to win in the red zone, as Dante Pettis shows us, but having a big slot receiver with Hurd's versatility to go along with Pettis and George Kittle is certainly more ideal than not having him.



Hurd isn't a receiver who can create space with his shiftiness or speed, largely because that's not his skill set, but in a compressed space, he gives the offense the ability to make contested catches in traffic where he can go up and pluck the ball out of the air. As he gets open here, he creates just enough room by swatting away the defender's contact and breaking to the side line. With the pass in the air, he turns to locate it and high points it over the defender, stays under control and gets two feet down.

Although this next play comes from just five yards outside the red zone, it still highlights his ability to present himself as a target who can make difficult catches over defenders in his space.



Running a go-route from the middle slot, Hurd eats the cushion of the defender, stems him to delay the defender's reaction time, and cuts inside up the hash. The ball is under-thrown to Hurd down the hash into the end zone, but he makes a difficult adjustment and plucks the ball out of the air for the touchdown with a defender in his face and another defender closing fast.

Scramble drill

Hurd's awareness to read the timing of the play and know when to shift into scramble mode is also a reliable skill. He can sense the play going off script and knows where to go to find open space.



Working from the slot, Hurd and the outside receiver "switch release," which takes Hurd down the sideline on a vertical route. As Hurd looks back for the pass, he sees the quarterback scramble. He continues to drive the defender up a few more steps before sharply cutting back out and away from the defender toward the sideline on a comeback route. As he does, the quarterback notices this and throws to Hurd down the sideline.

His versatility in the passing game isn't just as a receiver either and he'll likely see some usage as a receiver out of the backfield.



From his time in Tennessee as the primary running back, this play shows Hurd's ability to come out of the backfield as a weapon too. Initially, his original route is just a simple checkdown for quarterback Josh Dobbs. As Dobbs scrambles toward the sideline, Hurd takes off across the field diagonally and finds the open space. Dobbs rifles a pass into Hurd who catches and sprints to the end zone.

Where he needs to improve


The primary area of concern with Hurd as a receiver is his inability to get off press coverage effectively enough.



Against press coverage, Hurd has a tendency to anticipate contact off the line and uses a push-off to defeat the coverage. His inability to get a clean release effectively throws off the timing of the play and ensures he is unable to make a play on the pass. He catches the pass in the first clip but only because he's got a enough strength to keep his balance after attempting to shove the defender.

A secondary area of concern is his relative inability to be an effective run blocker. To truly fill the "big slot" role, he needs to work on his stalk blocking as it will give Shanahan the ability to unlock even further offensive potential if they can trot him out there in a blocking role out of any number of personnel groupings, similar to how the Rams use Cooper Kupp rather than tip their hand to passing play every time he's out there.



Hurd has a tendency to overrun his defender while trying to stalk block. Often times, his defender is the one who ends up making the tackle on the play because Hurd did not effectively breakdown and put himself into a good position to strike the defender and prevent him from making a play on the ball carrier.

Outlook


The theme from the 49ers this offseason has been to find players on offense who can play a variety of skill positions and line up in a multitude of personnel groupings, a form of "positionless" football. The 49ers spent just 16% of their snaps in 11 personnel (three receivers, one running back, one tight end) and adding Hurd adds a plethora of options for a team that primarily runs 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end, two receivers) 56% of the time.

Hurd's role will likely feature him a variety of ways in the slot, in tight to the offensive line, perhaps a tight end, or even as a running back. The key will be getting him into favorable match-ups the 49ers can use to exploit defenders who don't traditionally cover receivers out of the backfield or who might walk a slower linebacker over to cover him as a tight end. Whatever the case may be, Hurd has the versatility to be able to do almost anything asked of him.