The 49ers received next to nothing production-wise for much of the first half of their 2021 season from their slot receivers. Mohamed Sanu started the first eight games of the season where he didn’t score a touchdown and failed to surpass 60 receiving yards.
For the majority of the season, it was Deebo Samuel and not a whole lot else. Jauan Jennings caught a touchdown against the Eagles in Week 2, but he was in and out of the lineup and never really cemented himself until December. Jennings had a critical first down catch late in the game against the Bengals. He followed that game with a touchdown against Atlanta.
There weren’t many, if any, expectations for Jennings in 2021. Whatever they were, Jennings exceeded them in Week 18 in a must-win game against the Rams. Jennings caught six of his seven targets, including two touchdowns, with each reception feeling like it was a first down or a catch that made a difference.
Experience: 2 accrued seasons
Weight: 212 lbs.
Jennings will be a restricted free agent in 2023. His cap number for this season is $825,000. If Jennings has a respectable year, it’ll be interesting to see which tender the 49ers place on Jennings.
Will Jennings remain WR3 in 2022?
With the additions of Danny Gray and Ray-Ray McCloud, it seems as though the 49ers are looking to add more speed to their offense. Where does that leave Jennings, who is known as a contested-catch receiver?
In May, it’s tough to tell how much a rookie wideout and a free agent without extensive action, but the signs suggest speed is necessary for what Kyle Shanahan is planning to do on offense.
I think we’ll see Jennings used on third and manageable situations while Gray carves out more of a Marqise Goodwin or Travis Benjamin role where he’s the receiver you take a shot down the field with.
Knowing what wins in today’s NFL, who is under center for the 49ers, and the styles of receivers, my money is on Gray having a more prominent role on offense than Jennings. And that shouldn’t be viewed as a slight to Jennings.
What to expect in 2022
I envision Jennings having a Jakobi Meyers type of season. The Patriots wideout was among the league leaders last season in first down catches on third down, with 19.
Meyers finished last season with over 800 receiving yards, and I’m not expecting that out of Jennings. What I see happening is that a consistent player can move the chains but doesn’t necessarily move the needle in terms of how defenses defend him.
In an offense that features stars and speed everywhere else, the 49ers don’t need that from Jennings.