One boost for the 49ers offense in 2020 could come from Jalen Hurd.
The former standout college running back (Tennessee) who transferred to Baylor and transitioned into a big, physical wide receiver at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, missed all of the 2019 regular season because of a back injury. The 49ers drafted Deebo Samuel and Hurd in consecutive rounds last spring to improve their wide receiver group, and Samuel indeed became a big part of the offense. Hurd, however, didn’t play after the preseason.
Now, Matt Barrows of The Athletic has reported Hurd is completely healed and fit and is ready to take part fully in the 49ers’ offseason program beginning this spring.
The Niners had hoped at the beginning of the season that Hurd would heal in time to play some games, but he eventually was put on injured reserve in early October.
Like Samuel – who caught 57 passes for 802 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 – Hurd is hard to deal with physically for opposing cornerbacks. Hurd is a tall target who can use his body to shield defenders, which makes him a potential weapon in the red zone.
In the exhibition season, Hurd showed his potential in a game against the Dallas Cowboys, hauling in three passes for 31 yards and two touchdowns.
During training camp, Samuel and Hurd showed head coach Kyle Shanahan they can be standouts in the NFL.
“They’re both big guys, big targets,” said Shanahan. “They have strong hands who can defeat holding. When guys are on them, they’re not thrown off their routes as much. Not only do they have the bodies like that, but they have the mentality to go with it.”
During training camp scrimmages and drills, Hurd often tangled with defenders. Although he was a rookie, he stood his ground in physical battles with corners and safeties, and twice got into fights with defenders that stopped practice. At the time, Barrows reported that “defensive backs taking exception to Hurd’s tough blocking downfield” was one issue that set them off.
For the 49ers – who love to run the football – that’s a good sign that Hurd loves to block downfield. It’s an even better sign that Hurd appears ready to contribute in his second pro season.