49ers

Jalen Hurd among 49ers returning from injury who would improve offense

Jalen Hurd among 49ers returning from injury who would improve offense

Kyle Shanahan’s offense never was at full strength in his first three seasons as 49ers head coach.

Even when Shanahan’s offense ranked second in points scored and fourth in total yards last season, it was accomplished without three components who were expected to be major factors on offense.

The 49ers had situational roles envisioned for running back Jerick McKinnon, and receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd. But injuries kept each of those players off the field for the entire 2019 season.

Those players could give Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a lot more options, especially on third downs and in the team’s two-minute offense. An offense that needs only a tweak could get a major boost if McKinnon, Taylor and Hurd are healthy.

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RB Jerick McKinnon

He missed his first season with the 49ers when he sustained a torn ACL one week before the start of the season. Last year, his season ended before it started when the surgery from his graft did not fill in properly.

McKinnon was an elite route-runner before all of his knee issues. Shanahan made it a priority to sign him as a free agent in 2018 because he envisioned flooding the middle of the field with McKinnon, tight end George Kittle, a slot receiver and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Shanahan felt those players would cause all kinds of matchup problems.

McKinnon looks good in his workouts, and the 49ers are cautiously optimistic he will finally provide what they were expecting when they signed him two years ago.

Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida were good backs. But none had the route-running skills of McKinnon.

The 49ers’ best route-runner out of the backfield last season was Jeff Wilson. His ability to juke a defender in man coverage was the reason Shanahan called upon Wilson to run the route that won the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Late in the first half of the Super Bowl, Wilson went in for the same reason and caught a 20-yard pass.

Mostert is working hard on his route-running, and he likely will make improvements in that area. McKinnon is not likely to be considered for every-down duties. But he will have opportunities to make a considerable impact on third downs.

[RELATED49ers' Mostert expects McKinnon to 'surprise everyone']

WR Trent Taylor

Taylor had an impressive rookie season. He and Kittle tied for third on the team with 43 receptions apiece. But Taylor had a difficult time bouncing back in 2018 after offseason back surgery. Then, he had one setback after another following surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot last summer.

Taylor hopes to be ready for when the 49ers get on the field to begin preparations for the 2020 season. Taylor’s best attribute is his ability to get open quickly with Shanahan's favorite route. Depending on the matchup, Garoppolo can lock onto Taylor and rely on him to get open in order to convert third downs on what Shanahan calls "choice routes."

Emmanuel Sanders was the 49ers’ main slot receiver after coming to the team in a midseason trade. But the slot was never a big part of the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers had big hopes for Taylor last season. Nobody on the team would benefit as much from Wes Welker’s coaching as him.

WR Jalen Hurd

Shanahan likes some players for specific roles. But with Hurd, Shanahan sees a player who can be used in a number of different ways. Hurd can line up outside. He can line up in the slot, at tight end or in the backfield.

Hurd’s versatility would be especially useful to the 49ers on their two-minute drill when the opposing defense is unable to make substitutions after every play. Hurd could be moved around the formation to create exploit certain matchups Shanahan wishes to exploit.

General manager John Lynch said last month that Hurd had been cleared for on-field work after he was forced to sit out his rookie season due to a stress fracture in his back. Hurd is not likely to post huge numbers, but he has the potential to play a vital role in key situations.

Watch 49ers' Javon Kinlaw replicate Aaron Donald knife training drill

Watch 49ers' Javon Kinlaw replicate Aaron Donald knife training drill

Javon Kinlaw isn't afraid of a few deadly weapons.

The 49ers rookie showed off a seemingly dangerous drill on social media Friday in a video posted by defensive line trainer Cam Spence.

You're correct, those are in fact a pair of knives being wielded and sent in Kinlaw's direction as he bats them away. We've seen a similar drill from two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

[RELATED: Richard Sherman calls out report on 2020 NFL season negotiations]

Kinlaw was the 49ers' first selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, going No. 14 overall. The South Carolina product plugged up the middle for the Gamecocks' defense, picking up six sacks and recovering two fumbles. He likely will have an immediate chance to contribute, as All-Pro DeForest Buckner's departure to Indianapolis leaves a void in the 49ers' defensive line.

The rookie, along with a few returning players looking to earn a contract, will be imperative to make sure that void is filled in order for the 49ers to replicate the dominance the team enjoyed in 2019.

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49ers' Brandon Aiyuk sixth-best rookie receiver in Madden 21 ratings

49ers' Brandon Aiyuk sixth-best rookie receiver in Madden 21 ratings

The Brandon Aiyuk hype among 49ers fans has grown exponentially ever since he was drafted 25th overall in April.

The sixth receiver to come off the board in the 2020 NFL Draft, Aiyuk is expected to make an immediate impact with his elite breakaway speed, which he showcased numerous times during his two seasons at Arizona State.

But based on the just-released Madden 21 ratings, Aiyuk isn't even among the fastest wide receivers in his rookie class. In fact, he's just the sixth-best rookie wideout according to the video game's new ratings, checking in at 72 overall.

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The rookie receivers' overall ratings were almost identical to their draft positions, with the Denver Broncos' Jerry Jeudy and the Dallas Cowboys' CeeDee Lamb swapping places being the only alteration.

When it comes to speed, however, Aiyuk checks in as the 10th-fastest rookie wide receiver, behind a handful of players drafted well behind him.

[RELATED: George Kittle 'really proud' of team's offseason work, effort]

Aiyuk's 40-yard dash time at the NFL Scouting Combine wasn't exactly elite (4.54 seconds), but during his senior season, he was tracked with a top in-game speed of 21.97 mph -- a mark bested by just three NFL players in 2019.

Game speed is different than track speed, and Aiyuk brings game speed in spades every time he takes the field.

Guessing those ratings might be adjusted once Aiyuk actually sees some on-field action in a 49ers uniform.