San Francisco 49ers rookie receiver Jalen Hurd had a 2019 to forget. The wideout underwent knee surgery in December of 2018 to repair torn meniscus cartilage that would cause Hurd to miss the team’s rookie camp. Hurd worked his way back and participated in training camp. It was a slow start, which was to be expected from a first-year player in his first extensive action, as you could tell Hurd was “thinking too much” when he was on the practice field.
As the days wore on, Hurd became more and more comfortable, and his talent started to prevail. Hurd was actually lining up at tight end at times. Other times, you’d see him in the slot. I recall asking Kyle Shanahan why Hurd was playing inline tight end—in this situation, the 49ers were in 12 personnel, and Hurd was the second tight end on the field—and Kyle said he wanted to see how Jalen held up blocking when it came to holding up on the weakside. The more you can do on the field, the more you play for Shanahan.
Hurd began to make plays in practice, which continued in the preseason as he scored two touchdowns in two ways that Shanahan had been looking for—a fade and a short route where Hurd broke tackles. Hurd suffered a stress fracture in his back, which was followed up with complications and setbacks that were bad enough to prevent Hurd from traveling to the Super Bowl or being in team meetings.
Age: 24 (turned 24 on January 23)
Experience: One accrued season
Weight: 226 pounds
Hurd is entering the second year of his rookie contract. Hurd’s cap number in 2020 will be $972,655. He’ll count .5% against the 49ers overall salary cap.
What to expect in 2020
In his mailbag on Tuesday, The Athletic’s Matt Barrows answered whether Hurd would play tight end in 2020:
The black-and-white answer is that he’s playing receiver, not tight end, this year. The players have been meeting, via Zoom, with their position coaches over the last few weeks, and Hurd has been working with Wes Welker and the rest of the wideouts.
The more complex answer is that he’ll probably do some tight end-ish things in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. For example, Hurd might line up in the slot position — what the 49ers call the “F” — in a situation, the 49ers might have previously had a tight end in that spot. Which is to say, there’s some overlap between the two positions, especially if you have a bigger-bodied receiver like Hurd on the field.
Remember what Shanahan said when the 49ers first drafted Hurd: He thought Hurd eventually could play some sort of hybrid tight end role but that he’d start out as a receiver. Since Hurd’s rookie season essentially was wiped out, he’s still in that early part of his evolution.
That aligns with what was happening early in training camp. I can see Hurd being Jimmy Garoppolo’s safety blanket/check down option, which is why I believe Hurd will be one of the team’s target leaders.
It was Hurd, not Deebo Samuel, that was the rookie that stole the show for a brief time during training camp last year. Will Hurd pick up where he left off? Back injuries are scary. You never hear someone with a bad back say that injury went away all of a sudden. Before COVID-19, the 49ers hoped Hurd was cleared from injury by April. There hasn’t been any new info on Hurd, so we’ll have to wait until the team returns to practice.
On the field, what you saw in the preseason last year will give you a good idea of Kyle’s plan with Hurd. A lot of motion to create favorable matchups, crossing routes and seam routes down the middle of the field. That gets the ball in Hurd’s hands and allows him to make plays after the catch. Near the goal line, Hurd has the size and strength to win on fade routes. What can we expect in 2020? Health permitting, Hurd is in a position, unlike most “rookie” tight ends. Generally speaking, it takes rookie tight ends a year to get acclimated.
Over the past 15 years, only two tight ends have had more than 600 yards receiving. If Hurd put up numbers as second-year tight end Mike Gesicki gave the Dolphins; the 49ers would be all smiles. Gesicki had 51 receptions for 570 yards and five touchdowns. More importantly, Gesicki did his damage in the intermediate parts of the field and had five receptions over 20 yards.