When Jalen Hurd was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, his listed position was wide receiver. Something the 49ers already took a round ago with Deebo Samuel. The selection is one that had many scratching their heads; why two wide receivers? Because this guy might be going to tight end.
Read up and you’d see Hurd began his college career as a running back. In his Day 2 press conference, Kyle Shanahan indicated they could even line the guy up at tight end.
There’s some versatility right there. The 49ers running backs are quite the crowded group and the wide receivers are right behind with all the young talent stockpiled. While strictly a wide receiver, Hurd has competitive pass catchers to work with. As a tight end, Hurd might have a better position in the NFL.
RIght now, Hurd is 6 feet, four inches and 229 pounds. He played running back quite well and switched to wide receiver. Many say the transition is still happening but he’s been called a natural hands catcher and is able to shrug tackles. He’s also a big dude. He may have finished his college career as a wide receiver, but the 49ers might have other ideas.
Could it be that the 49ers drafted Hurd to be the tight end of the future and not a wide receiver? It’s possible, when you think of the timing of the pick and how that wide receiver room is cramped. Sure, Hurd could join them, but without him, difficult decisions will still have to be made on Kendrick Bourne, Richie James, Trent Taylor and others.
On the tight end front, the 49ers have George Kittle, Garrett Celek, and that’s pretty much it. The position has been a revolving door of names beyond the two listed above. Kittle is Kittle, and Celek was thought to be breaking out in 2017, but an injury in 2018 made him a shadow of Celek Time.
So maybe that’s what Hurd is for, to play tight end. His blocking has been noted as needing work, but maybe he’s not being used as a blocking tight end. It could be similar to NFL tight end Jimmy Graham where he is used exclusively as a pass catcher. He’ll line up all over the field but be listed as a tight end on the roster. Much like other swiss army knives, it wouldn’t be surprising if we see some interesting formations where he takes the ball out of the backfield as well.
Kyle Shanahan is no stranger to making a player switch positions, in his press conference Friday evening, Shanahan went over how he drafted and converted Niles Paul to tight end:
Whatever the best advantage is. I mean, we drafted [former NFL TE] Niles Paul a number of years ago as a receiver, I think he was a sixth-round pick for us in Washington and he was a good receiver for us one year and we thought he could put on about 10 more pounds and he had the physicality to play tight end. He was good enough to make our team and play receiver, which meant he could beat corners. But, it was a lot neater when he put on 10 pounds and only had to worry about beating linebackers and safeties. We’ll see where this goes. This guy [Hurd], he’s a bigger guy than Niles. He’s as tough as Niles. He’s got that skillset. The one difference is, we eventually put Niles at fullback. This guy could actually be put at running back, too.
The 49ers have indicated they will have Hurd get comfortable and want him to gain some weight, so all of this could have been them looking for a tight end to pair with Kittle. When you think about that and the 49ers’ need at the position, the pick makes a bit more sense.
How would you go about using Jalen Hurd?