Chris Biderman’s three takeaways from the 49ers’ haul in the 2019 NFL Draft
It was easy to find the similarities between Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd as football players when they met with Bay Area reporters for the first time Thursday before the start of the 49ers’ rookie minicamp.
“At South Carolina, I played almost every position except for quarterback,” Samuel said after flying from Greenville, S.C., early Friday.
Added Hurd: “I have been at slot (receiver), I can play on the outside. Obviously, I have a running back background, so there’s not really any limit to me on the offensive side.”
Both multifaceted receivers were picked by San Francisco on Day 2 of the NFL draft last week in an attempt by coach Kyle Shanahan to give quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo useful weapons for last season’s 22nd-ranked scoring offense. Samuel was taken with pick No. 36 in the second round. Hurd was the 67th overall selection in Round 3. Both helped solve the team’s need at wideout.
“I think a common theme in this draft for us is guys that combine speed and power and versatility,” general manager John Lynch said.
Versatility is where the similarities between the rookies end.
Samuel is a running back-like 5-foot-11 and 214 pounds. He’s known for his quickness, route running and nasty disposition with the ball in his hands. He scored 30 touchdowns five different ways in college (16 receiving, seven rushing, four returning kickoffs, two passing and even a fumble return). He’s an early favorite to start opposite 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis, who showed flashes of promise in his rookie season.
Hurd (6-5, 226) was a running back at Tennessee from 2014-16. He earned a second-team all-SEC honor as a sophomore with 1,288 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns while patterning his game after Eddie George, one of the most successful tall running backs in college and the NFL. Hurd weighed some 240 pounds.
But Hurd left the Volunteers midway through his junior campaign to become a receiver at Baylor, where he logged 69 catches for 946 yards last season working primarily from the slot in Baylor’s spread offense. Hurd dropped some 15 pounds for his new position, where he believes he could carve out a longer pro career. Running backs have among the shortest life spans of any position.
Shanahan is still trying to determine where Hurd fits best in his complex scheme. For now, Hurd is working with the receivers, though Shanahan is eying a switch to “move” tight end or H-back, where his versatility could be showcased.
“That’s kind of my thing,” Hurd said. “So people don’t just see me as an outside or inside receiver. They have seen that I can do many different things.”
After being drafted, Hurd called Shanahan an offensive “genius.” Perhaps he saw what Shanahan did with tight end George Kittle, who led the NFL with 873 yards after the catch last season and broke a NFL single-season record for the position with 1,377 receiving yards.
Hurd’s background at running back indicates he’s best with the ball in his hands. He was effective with Tennessee on screen passes, a Shanahan specialty, particularly for tight ends. Kittle averaged 11.2 yards on 15 receptions made at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Drafting Hurd doesn’t come without risk. There’s a belief he quit on his teammates at Tennessee because of a rift with the coaching staff about his use. He wanted to be featured more outside rather than between the tackles, but the coaching staff didn’t comply – and he left the program after seven games.
“I didn’t just do this on a whim. I researched it,” Hurd told Bleacher Report last July. “Running backs last 3.5 years in the NFL. Wide receivers can last 10 or more years. Receivers are more valued than running backs in the NFL, and I can play this game a lot longer and can be more valuable as a receiver. It’s not just a position and career change, it’s a life change.”
For now, the 49ers seem at ease with what they’ve heard about Hurd’s decision and might not buy into the notion he quit on the team.
“I got comfortable with his story because there were a lot of versions,” Lynch said. “So we spent a lot of time with him to try to get to the crux of exactly what happened. Through our conversations, we got comfortable with the person. We got comfortable with how that all transpired.”
If Hurd and Samuel become the upgrades San Francisco envisions, the offense could take a significant leap.
“Every team loves playmakers,” Samuel said.