We just left on with San Francisco 49ers seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings in our roster rankings. Rookies report today, and that means Jennings will put on a Niner’s helmet. One of the biggest misconceptions for a wide receiver is that you have to be a speedster in order to separate from man coverage. Jennings was the second-highest graded pass-catcher against man coverage in 2019, per Pro Football Focus. Rich Madrid did a great job going in-depth a month ago on what Jennings brings to the table. Today, I’ll focus on five routes Jennings will be asked to run with the Niners against man coverage.
Mismatch in the middle
The last thing I want to do is turn this into a fluff piece. Jennings shouldn’t have lasted until the seventh round, but it’s not as if he should have been in the contention to go where Brandon Aiyuk went, either. Against Alabama, he had a ball go right through his hands that ended up as an interception.
On the next drive, Jennings showed why he could be a mismatch in the middle of the field for the 49ers. Kyle Shanahan does a fine job of scheming his receivers open or putting them in favorable matchups before the snap. Shanahan loves these “return” routes as Jennings runs below:
Shifting away from the smaller, quicker receivers to Jalen Hurd and Jennings running these routes will something I’ll be keeping an eye on this year. It makes more sense for those two as opposed to Kendrick Bourne, and Trent Taylor since the combo of Hurd and Jennings are better after the catch.
A few times last year, Jimmy Garoppolo checked to “Dart,” which is a built-in backside one-step slant. It’s a pre-snap RPO that the offense will check to if they feel like the defense is loading up for the offenses wide zone run. Deebo Samuel made a living off this play last year. The 49ers formational versatility makes this impossible to prepare for, as Jimmy can check ‘dart’ whether they’re in shotgun or 13 personnel.
Here’s an example:
Notice how Seattle is overloaded to one side. Now, take a look at Jennings running a similar quick slant in the slot to the top of the screen:
If you can win underneath in the NFL, you will last a long time at receiver. Nobody remembers Anquan Boldin’s 40 time, and while that’s an extreme example, Jennings proved he can get open at the highest level of college football. Against Vanderbilt, Jennings caught the same slant on third down where the defender was draped all over him. He’s the type of receiver that’s open even when he’s not open.
Creating for yourself
Shanahan doesn’t run this complex passing scheme. There are a lot of timing routes underneath that require the wideout to create for himself after the catch. The play below is 3rd & 5, and Jennings runs a quick out route against off coverage. I’ll let his play do the rest of the talking:
Those are the plays that make you sit up straight, jot down some notes, and text your friend about a player when you’re watching him. Jennings proved time and time again that he will make the first tackler miss. That is far more important than running a fast 40.
Opportunity for a big play
In the fourth quarter against Vanderbilt, on 3rd & 11, Jennings ran a slant that resulted in a 50-yard gain. You can see his strength as Jennings uses his hands to shake free from the defender. A couple of broken tackles later, and he’s near the goal line. There is a lot to like about Jennings, and plays like the one linked are prime examples of why Jennings has a bright future in San Francisco.
Jennings can win against man coverage. Whether you are in off coverage or in his face, he has ways to get open. If Jennings can’t create separation, his frame still allows him to make the play. Once the ball is in his hands, Jennings is a running back. Winning underneath was valuable for the 49ers last year. That value doubles when the receiver can turn a quick throw into a big play. If Jennings can get open in practice against this defense, he’s going to surprise some this season.