Jalen Hurd missed his entire rookie season with a broken back, but could become a starting wide receiver for the 49ers in 2020.
His competition is Brandon Aiyuk, a rookie who will have an abbreviated offseason to learn the 49ers offense. Kendrick Bourne, a former undrafted free agent who started zero games last season. And Dante Pettis. I don’t need to say anything about Pettis. You already know.
If Hurd stays healthy, he could be the favorite to start opposite Deebo Samuel at wide receiver in the regular-season opener.
Here are five things to know about Hurd.
1. Hurd was a top-5 running back in the country during high school.
He grew up in Henderson, Tennessee. And his junior season, he rushed for 3,357 yards and won Tennessee’s Mr. Football Award -- he was a prodigy. A 6’4” running back who bulldozed poor high-school defenders. He seemed like the second coming of Eddie George, who played for the Tennessee Titans when Hurd was growing up. Hurd wanted to be like George.
After Hurd’s junior season, he received scholarship offers from Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Notre Dame, to name a few. But he decided to stay close to home and attend Tennessee.
Hurd’s senior season of high school, he played one game, then shut himself down for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury. He wanted to make sure he was healthy for the start of the college football season.
2. Hurd was fantastic during his first two seasons at Tennessee.
He started as a true freshman in the SEC, the most violent conference, and rushed for 899 yards and five touchdowns. As a sophomore, he rushed for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns. He looked like a future NFL running back.
But in 2016, after seven games, Hurd suffered a concussion and decided he didn’t want to play running back any more. Decided he wanted to play wide receiver instead. Understandable. Wide receivers generally make more money than running backs, and running backs typically suffer more concussions than wide receivers.
But Tennessee’s coaching staff refused to allow Hurd to change positions -- they recruited him to play running back. So he shut himself down for the rest of the season and transferred to Baylor to play wide receiver. Meaning he sat out half of 2016 and all of 2017.
3. Hurd was a starting wide receiver for Baylor in 2018.
It was his first season as a wide receiver, and he led Baylor in catches (69) and receiving yards (946). He was a natural.
But late in the season, he injured his knee against Texas Tech. He returned to the game and finished it, but did not play the following week in Baylor’s bowl game. Instead, Hurd shut himself down and had knee surgery so he’d be ready for the NFL season.
4. Hurd played well in training camp and preseason with the 49ers.
They drafted him in Round 3, and he missed OTAs and minicamp, but returned for training camp and played extremely well for 14 days. Blocked hard and ran hard after catches. Looked like a future starting wide receiver who could play some running back, too.
Until he suffered a stress fracture in his back. The 49ers hoped he would return after three weeks, but Hurd missed the entire season. Didn’t want to travel or even sit in meetings -- the mere act of sitting hurt him. So he spent hardly any time with the 49ers as a rookie.
2013: missed all but one game.
2016: missed all but seven games.
2017: missed the entire season.
2018: missed the final game.
2019: missed the entire season.
Lots of time off for a 24-year old trying to make a career in the NFL.
5. The 49ers finally cleared Hurd’s back this offseason.
He’s healthy enough to train and practice with the 49ers, whenever the government allows.
But will Hurd stay healthy for the whole season?
Hurd hasn’t made it through a season healthy since 2015, half a decade ago. His body began to break down in high school.
The 49ers still hope Hurd can become a dependable, starting-caliber wide receiver, but they can’t count on him. Not with his track record. Anything he gives them during his career would be a bonus.