Don’t look now, but the San Francisco 49ers may have finally found some pieces to invest in at wide receiver.
Saturday’s showdown against the Cowboys, a 17-9 victory for the Niners, marked the debut of rookies Jalen Hurd (67th pick) and Deebo Samuel (36th pick) and the young guns didn’t disappoint. In fact, their early emergence could bring a whole new set of challenges for second-year wideout Dante Pettis.
Pettis, the 49ers‘ 2018 second-round draft pick, performed well in Year 1 and is widely believed to be the team’s No. 1 option at receiver. But, coach Kyle Shanahan is apparently still evaluating his options.
“I wanted him to compete,” Shanahan said via Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports. “We’re trying to see who our starting receivers are, and I wanted to get him a chance to get out there.
“Dante has a lot of room to grow. He can still get a lot better. So can a lot of the other guys.”
Pettis played 17 snaps and had just one target in Saturday’s victory. Meanwhile, Hurd — three catches for 31 yards and two touchdowns — and Samuel, who hauled in two catches for a game-high 61 yards, registered a much bigger impact.
“A strong showing (Saturday), obviously,” QB Nick Mullens said of the new tandem. “We know what they bring to the table, and it’s cool to see that. But at the same time, it’s a first step. It’s only the first preseason game and so we’re excited to see how they can go going forward.”
The dynamic presented by Hurd and Samuel is quite interesting when you consider that they’re essentially the inverse of each other.
In his three seasons at Tennessee, Hurd was a running back that contributed 589 carries for 2,635 yards and 20 TDs. He ended up transferring to Baylor to play receiver and, after sitting out a season, upped his draft stock by totaling 69 receptions for 946 receiving yards and four TDs and 48 carries for 209 rushing yards and three TDs.
“When I first switched to receiver, I was on the JUGS machine for a very long, long time,” Hurd said after the game. “I would catch five to six hundred balls (a day) in the offseason when I switched over to receiver.
“I am really just playing it out and consistently staying on it. Being strong as well helps and then having good balls skills, which kind of goes hand-in-hand.”
Samuel, on the other hand, is a running back trapped in a wideout’s body. In his four years at South Carolina, Samuel demonstrated blazing speed and great yards-after-catch ability, averaging 14 yards per catch for his career and finishing with 148 receptions for 2,076 yards and 16 TDs.
For all of their similarities (and differences), one thing the two will definitely bring is toughness. Samuel displayed his when he secured an underthrown 45-yard pass from QB C.J. Beathard while Hurd laid out Dallas defensive back Kavon Frazier to score his first TD from four yards out.
Regardless of their strides, both guys are still competing against one another as the Niners flesh out their depth chart. But, even with that in mind, Samuel isn’t afraid to acknowledge Hurd’s skills while talking a little about his own.
“He played pretty well,” Samuel said of Hurd. “Like coach Shanahan said, we bring the physicality in the group. That over route for a touchdown that he caught, you can see with his big frame and with his body it is going to take more than one person to bring him down.”