Fans of the San Francisco 49ers are used to notable pairings — a la Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, Steve Young to Rice, Jeff Garcia to Terrell Owens, Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and recently, Jimmy Garoppolo to George Kittle.
The moment Trey Lance was drafted, there was this feeling in the Bay Area that he and Deebo Samuel would become the next dynamic passer/receiver duo for the 49ers. Samuel, though, was a no show at the 49ers’ facility until day one of mandatory minicamp on June 7.
But, one 49ers insider revealed that the 2021 third overall pick has developed a strong, cohesive field chemistry with one target who has established some red zone prowess — all during the offseason work between he and Lance.
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Receiver is ‘One of Lance’s Favorite Red Zone Targets’
Every team writer on ESPN shared who they believed was the “surprise offseason standout” from each NFL team on Monday, June 27.
Nick Wagoner, who serves as the 49ers insider for the network, didn’t go with any rookie for his pick. He didn’t write down one man who’s delivered an impactful offseason in his 49ers debut in cornerback Charvarius Ward. He also didn’t go with Lance as his surprise.
Wagoner shared how Jennings didn’t establish himself as an impact player on the 49ers until late in the season.
“It wasn’t until Week 14 that Jennings began to emerge as an option in the Niners’ pass game last season, but once he did, he became one of their most reliable targets on third down and in the red zone,” Wagoner said. “Jennings had 16 catches for 212 yards over the final five games with 11 of those receptions going for a touchdown or a first down.”
Now, Jennings’ late season charge has carried over into his developing chemistry with Lance.
“That momentum has carried into the offseason where Jennings and quarterback Trey Lance have displayed an easy chemistry that has made Jennings one of Lance’s favorite red zone targets,” Wagoner said.
The insider added how one other prominent member of the 49ers had been pleased with Jennings’ rise — signaling more growth once the season begins.
“Coach Kyle Shanahan said Jennings has had his best offseason since he entered the league, a good sign his role will only continue to grow in 2022,” Wagoner wrote.
Is WR Room More Crowded?
While Jennings has been labeled the surprise of offseason OTAs and minicamp for S.F., is he still walking into a situation where his touches may get limited?
While ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Samuel hasn’t rescinded on his original trade request to the 49ers, his reappearance at the 49ers’ Santa Clara facility signified “a positive” inside the 49ers’ building that the relationship between the All-Pro and the franchise can get mended. Should both sides work out a long-awaited extension, Samuel returns as the predicted go-to for the ‘Niners offense.
There’s also Brandon Aiyuk back on board — who was another key emergence late in 2021 and has been called a potential “year three breakout performer” by Pro Football Focus. And, the 49ers drafted Danny Gray in the third round to help blow the top off of defenses. Mix in the Pro Bowler Kittle plus versatile return ace Ray-Ray McCloud, and the 49ers have five explosive elements for Lance in the aerial attack.
But where does this leave Jennings? While this group adds more experience, Jennings does give Lance and the ‘Niners a needed tall, possession/red zone option off his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame. Of the five touchdowns Jennings scored in 2021, four were inside the 20-yard line.
He’s most beloved, though, for this grab that helped save the 49ers’ season with less than 30 seconds left:
It’s a more crowded 49ers’ WR room. But looks like Lance has found one of his favorite targets — especially when the 49ers are inside the opposing 20. Jennings could go from “offseason surprise” to 2022 surprise with Lance’s arm.