Jalen Hurd

49ers draft picks face stiff head-to-head training camp competitions

49ers draft picks face stiff head-to-head training camp competitions

The 49ers are counting on immediate and significant production from their 2020 NFL Draft class.

Those are the expectations of a team that replaced two of their top veteran departures with first-round draft picks.

The incoming class of five draft picks will have to earn their roles, and they will undoubtedly have a truncated offseason and/or training camp to do it.

South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw steps in to replace DeForest Buckner, who was sent to Indianapolis in a trade. And Arizona State wideout Brandon Aikyk is being counted upon to pick up the slack for the departure of Emmanuel Sanders to New Orleans as a free agent.

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Here’s a look at the top competitions that face the 49ers’ 2020 draft class in their rookie seasons:

Javon Kinlaw vs. Solomon Thomas

Kinlaw, the No. 14 overall pick, is a starter at defensive tackle. No question.

But will Kinlaw win the right to be on the field as an inside pass rusher on a critical third-down play in the fourth quarter?

Kinlaw registered six sacks as a senior. Solomon Thomas had 8.5 sacks in his final year at Stanford. But in 46 career NFL games, Thomas has just six sacks after arriving as the No. 3 overall pick in 2017.

Still, Thomas' teammates put his quickness at the snap near the same level as Dee Ford. He could make his biggest contribution as an inside pass-rusher. The 49ers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Thomas for the 2021 season, but he still figures to play an important role as a rotational player this season and remain with the club.

While Kinlaw learns what’s expected of him on base downs, he will have to earn his way into a role as an immediate three-down player.

Brandon Aiyuk vs. Kendrick Bourne

Unlike when the 49ers’ coaching staff had confidence in only three wide receivers toward the end of last season, the club should have better depth this year.

There should be plenty of playing time for a handful of the team’s receivers, including rookie Brandon Aikyuk, Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne and Trent Taylor, if healthy.

The 49ers had Aiyuk rated nearly as high as draft prospect CeeDee Lamb. General manager John Lynch traded up from No. 31 to No. 25 to make sure Kyle Shanahan got the receiver with whom he became smitten during the draft process.

But Bourne has been in this system for three seasons. Aiyuk will certainly have a role on offense, but will Bourne still be the better option for most of the playbook? Bourne should have a head start when the competition begins due to his familiarity with Shanaahn's scheme.

The 49ers like Aiyuk because of his versatility. So, on third downs, will Aiyuk or Bourne line up outside? Or will Aiyuk or Taylor take most of the snaps in the slot? How much Aiyuk plays as a rookie will be based on how quickly he adapts.

Colton McKivitz vs. Daniel Brunskill

The 49ers will have a new starting right guard this season after the club made the decision to release veteran Mike Person in March.

The competition at right guard was originally seen as a head-to-head battle involving Daniel Brunskill and Tom Compton, whom the 49ers signed as a free agent. Compton turns 31 next month. He started 10 games or more just once in his eight-year career. The 49ers will be his sixth team in six years.

The more likely competition seems to feature Brunskill and Colton McKivitz. 

The 49ers had their eyes on McKivitz, the West Virginia left tackle, in the fourth round as a possible replacement for Joe Staley. They ended up selecting McKivitz in the fifth round.

His better NFL position might be guard. Brunskill has the ability to start at all the guard and tackle positions. He performed well last season at whichever position the 49ers needed him. As with all the returners, Brunskill's time in the system gives him the early advantage.

[RELATED: How 49ers' depth chart looks after offseason developments]

Jauan Jennings vs. Jalen Hurd

Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings are big wide receivers the 49ers have selected in the draft in back-to-back years.

Jennings is a tough wide receiver whose skillset seems to overlap, to a degree, with the 49ers’ original plan for Hurd.

Hurd, of course, did not see any action as a rookie due to a stress fracture in his back. He was recently cleared and apepars to be on pace to compete for a major role in the 49ers’ offense.

Jennings plays wide receiver like a middle linebacker. He lasted until the seventh round of the draft because of questions about his 4.72 speed in the 40, and whether he has any chance to create separation against NFL defensive backs.

These two large, physical wide receivers, are likely to be going head-to-head for the same identity in Shanahan's system.

Peter King thought 49ers' Jalen Hurd would be Offensive Rookie of Year

Peter King thought 49ers' Jalen Hurd would be Offensive Rookie of Year

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."

[RELATED: 49ers' Aiyuk reminds college coach of former All-Pro Holt]

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.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

49ers' Jalen Hurd cleared, ramping up injury rehab at practice facility

49ers' Jalen Hurd cleared, ramping up injury rehab at practice facility

49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd, who missed his entire rookie season due to a stress fracture in his back, is increasing his rehabilitation at the team’s practice facility in Santa Clara, general manager John Lynch said.

“He is cleared. We're ramping him up. We are very optimistic,” Lynch said. “I don't want to be overly optimistic because last year we saw some progress and then we had some setbacks.”

Hurd, who switched from running back to wide receiver upon his transfer from Tennessee to Baylor for his final college season, was a third-round draft pick a year ago. Hurd’s versatility was attractive to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who imagined lining up Hurd at wide receiver, tight end and running back to take advantage of mismatches.

“We love his skill set. We love his mindset,” Lynch said. “Now it's time to put it all to work.”

Hurd appeared in one preseason game and caught two touchdown passes for the 49ers against the Dallas Cowboys. He never stepped on the field through the exhibition season, regular season or playoffs. The 49ers placed Hurd on injured reserve on Oct. 3. The club hoped he would be able to be activated off injured reserve, but he experienced setbacks and never came close to being available to play.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Hurd did not travel to Miami for the Super Bowl due to concerns about how his back would respond on the cross-country flight.

But Lynch is encouraged that Hurd appears to be rounding back into shape while working with the 49ers’ strength-and-conditioning staff over the past two weeks. Lynch said Hurd has experienced the benfits of working out under the supervision of the team’s staff. The NFL ruled that the rehabilitation of injured players is permissible under the guidelines that have been put into place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We take great precaution with all those things, but Jalen is doing really well,” Lynch said. “He's doing really well and we're excited by that. Jalen’s 14 days that we've seen him were lights out. The problem is we've only seen him for 14 days. Jalen knows full well that he needs to work his tail off, so that he can get back and be a contributor and try to earn opportunities to be a contributor for our team moving forward.”

[RELATEDHow 49ers depth chart looks after offseason developments]

The 49ers hope Hurd (6-foot-5) provides the 49ers with a big target for Jimmy Garoppolo. He will be competing for playing time on a depth chart that includes returners Deebo Samuel, Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis and others.

The 49ers added another big receiver in the draft this year, selecting Jauan Jennings (6-3) in the seventh round. Jennings and Hurd were teammate at Tennessee. Earlier, the 49ers picked Arizona State wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk in the first round at No. 25 overall.