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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports


Can Jalen Hurd Take the 49ers Offense to the Next Level?

Jun 17, 2020 at 4:00 PM0


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There has been a lot of attention surrounding the 49ers' young wide receiver group this offseason. Much of the discussion has been focused on the emerging leadership from 2019 rookie standout, Deebo Samuel, the excitement of the explosive first-round pick, Brandon Aiyuk, and the dedication of Kendrick Bourne, who has been working hard this offseason to improve his craft.

The San Francisco 49ers wide receiver group is young, talented, and its members all understand that there will be opportunities to earn a key role in Kyle Shanahan's offensive system. In 2019, the 49ers offense relied on a strong running game, where they were 2nd in the NFL in team rushing with 2,305 yards with 498 attempts. Through the air, they were just 17th in the NFL in passing, with 4,029 yards with only 478 pass attempts (29th).

Simply put, there is room for the 49ers to improve their mediocre passing attack, and Jalen Hurd could be the player who helps take Shanahan's offensive scheme to another level.

Hurd started his collegiate career as a running back at the University of Tennessee, where he rushed for 2,635 yards and 20 touchdowns in 33 games, while starting over RB Alvin Kamara. In 2016, Hurd announced he was transferring to Baylor, which forced him to sit out the 2017 season. In 2018, Hurd not only switched schools, but he also switched his position and emerged as Baylor's starting slot receiver, hauling in 69 receptions for 946 yards and 4 touchdowns.

The 49ers selected Hurd with the 67th overall pick in the 2019 draft, and he followed up his selection with a strong performance in training camp. Hurd showed a glimpse of his potential in the 49ers' first preseason game vs. Dallas, when he caught 3 of 5 targets for 31 yards and 2 touchdowns in his 49ers debut. However, Hurd left the game with a back injury and was placed on injury reserve in October, ending his rookie campaign.

Looking forward to the 2020 NFL season, general manager John Lynch announced Hurd was cleared to return in April.

"He is cleared. We're ramping him up. We are very optimistic," Lynch said. "I don't want to be overly optimistic because last year we saw some progress and then we had some setbacks."
- NBC Sports

Earlier this week, Hurd posted photos of himself running routes for Jimmy Garoppolo at the player-organized workouts at San Jose State.

So, what does a healthy Jalen Hurd bring to the 49ers offense?

SLOT RECEIVER


Listed at 6'5 and 230 pounds, Hurd is the team's biggest receiver and would be ideal at the slot position in Shanahan's offense. In his one professional preseason game, Hurd lined up in the slot on 23 of his 32 offensive snaps, per Pro Football Focus. This is a small sample size I know, but is a clear indication of where Shanahan wants to utilize Hurd.

Kendrick Bourne is the only current 49ers WR to have significant snaps at the slot position, as he lined up there on 47 percent of his total snaps in 2019. There is a gap that needs to be filled in the slot, and Hurd would give Jimmy Garoppolo a big, bruising target over the middle of the field. Trent Taylor should also be back healthy in 2020, and he will also compete for snaps, but Hurd and Taylor bring different skill sets to the position and can be utilized in different concepts.

Hurd became an effective slot receiver in college because he is explosive off the line of scrimmage, and utilizes smooth cuts to create separation from defenders. He does not shy away from contact and has a natural catching ability. He is a tough and physical receiver who will be a nightmare for defenses when he gets the ball over the middle of the field.

He can also be a serious red zone threat, as he has the ability to use his size to create space and catch the ball at the highest point over defenders.



RUNNING BACK/HYBRID


We all know Kyle Shanahan loves creating mismatches with his receivers and running backs, so a versatile player like Hurd could improve the 49ers overall offensive efficiency by lining up in the backfield, forcing defenses into making shifts and adjustments. He is also much bigger than the current 49er running backs, so he could find himself carrying the ball as a change of pace back. Hurd would be a great asset for Shanahan's outside zone and sweep concepts. His speed and size make him a difficult runner to bring down, and can be valuable in goal line situations.







Jalen Hurd is one of the most versatile players on the roster, and finding unique ways to get the ball in his hands needs to be a priority. There will be rough patches as he is still technically a rookie and he will need to improve his overall route running and most importantly, stay healthy, but a versatile threat like Jalen Hurd is exactly what this 49ers offense needs.
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.


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