The 49ers have high hopes for wide receiver Jalen Hurd, and they're not the only ones who are expecting big things from the former third-round draft pick.
Outside of the very first preseason game, Hurd, 24, sat out the entirety of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his back. He hauled in two touchdown receptions in that lone preseason appearance, though, and was one of San Francisco's top performers in training camp.
NBC Sports' Peter King visited 49ers training camp last year and departed thinking San Francisco had come away with the steal of the draft.
"I walked out of that camp, and we got in the car to go to the next place," he said on "The Peter King Podcast" to 49ers general manager John Lynch, "and the two women I was traveling with said, 'Well, what was your impression?' I said, 'We just saw the 2019 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.' [Hurd] is going to come out of nowhere. He's going to be fantastic."
All the promise Hurd displayed has been kept under wraps ever since, as he never got the opportunity to build off that preseason debut. Every time he got close, he suffered a setback. On Monday, however, Lynch announced that Hurd has been cleared from his injury and is ramping up his rehabilitation at the team's practice facility.
"Well, he had a good redshirt year," Lynch said of Hurd to King. "Now, he's got to go do it. Our belief hasn't changed. We've seen him for 14 days on the field, and I agree with you. You can make a case he was the best player on the field for those 14 days.
"One of the things in this league, your best ability is availability. He's got to be available. That wasn't his fault. He had a stress reaction in his back that flared up. It was frustrating because every time he'd get close, he'd go try to ramp up, and it would hurt him. And that's the way those things are. I've learned more about that injury than I'd ever want to know."
Hurd was a running back at the University of Tennessee before transferring to Baylor, where he transitioned to receiver. The 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft due in large part to the diverse skill set he offers. In addition to his two collegiate positions, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned using Hurd at tight end, as well.
"That vision for him hasn't changed," Lynch added. "Now he's just got to go do it and be available. We almost look at him as another draft choice this year."
The 49ers had a great 2020 NFL Draft, and added to their cushion atop the NFC West.
If Hurd has the kind of sophomore season King expected him to have as a rookie, that gap will grow even wider.
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