Former 49ers Practice Squad Member Makes Top 25 List

Jauan Jennings

Getty One former 49ers practice squad member is now a top-25 breakout prospect.

Veteran talent helps the San Francisco 49ers remain a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Yet, the roster isn’t all about marquee names like Trent Williams, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Arik Armstead.

The Niners are also fortunate enough to possess a clutch of promising young prospects. Three of those have been recognized by Football Outsiders as players to watch during the 2022 NFL season.

Two members of this trio ply their trade within a deep and opportunistic secondary, but it’s the third prospect who might surprise people. He’s spent time on the 49ers’ practice squad but managed to play his way into a key role on offense where he showed the skills to impact defenses both on the ground and through the air.


Ex-Practice Squad WR a Player On the Rise

In a special for ESPN.com, Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders listed 25 “under-the-radar young players who could break out.” The 49ers featured heavily on the list, with cornerback Ambry Thomas named in the fifth slot, while safety Talanoa Hafunga came in at 16.

They are burgeoning talents in a defensive backfield revamped after Josh Norman, K’Waun Williams and Jacquiski Tartt left the team this offseason. Yet, while things look a lot different in the secondary, the wide receiver position is in a more settled state.

It’s why Jauan Jennings was a surprise name at 18. McCown believes the seventh-round pick in 2020 made a niche role his own last season: “After spending most of 2020 on the practice squad, Jennings became the 49ers’ third wideout as the 2021 season wound down and Mohamed Sanu and Trent Sherfield were found lacking. Jennings caught two touchdowns against the Rams in the season finale to help San Francisco clinch the playoffs. He finished 19th in DYAR among receivers with between 10 and 49 targets, while he broke five tackles in just 24 touches. Jennings caught 10 of his 11 targets on third downs for the highest catch rate among receivers with 10 or more third-down targets.”

Aside from the strides he took as a pass-catcher, Jennings also made his presence felt on the ground, according to McCown: “As you might imagine from his size, he’s also a major factor in the running game; he absolutely punished Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins on a block in Week 11.”

Wide receivers who can block are vital in the relentless and varied running game favored by head coach Kyle Shanahan. At 6’3″ and 212 pounds, Jennings can handle the physical demands, something he showed against the Los Angeles Rams in last season’s NFC Championship Game, per Nate Tice of The Athletic:

A skill like this increases the value of any wideout. So does being able to win over the middle from the slot, something big-bodied Jennings is getting better at all the time.

Shanahan began working Jennings into the passing game early and often last season, like for this touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles from Week 2:

Scoring six quick was a great way for Jennings to begin his rapid development as a receiver. He continued in the same vain, en route to making 24 catches for 282 yards and five scores.

Jennings has a solid base to build from, but he’s now vying for more playing time among a crowded and star-studded rotation.


Jennings Offers Something Different Amid Big Names

The 49ers are more than healthy at receiver after do-all playmaker Deebo Samuel agreed a new deal on Sunday, July 31, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter:

Samuel will continue to be the main man among the receiving corps, but he should get more help this year. The help might come from third-round pick Danny Gray, who hauled in 49 catches for 803 yards and nine touchdowns during his final season at SMU.

Gray could line up in the slot, but the 6’1″, 180-pounder can’t match Jennings’ frame. Nor can Brandon Aiyuk, who has also been making a positive impression during the offseason.

Drafted in the first round the same year Jennings was taken, Aiyuk appears primed for a breakout season based on the way he’s been turning heads at camp. His eye-catching performances continued on Monday, August 1, according to David Lombardi of The Athletic:

Aiyuk can play outside or inside and even be a factor out of the backfield, a role Samuel adopted last season. While Samuel and Aiyuk will likely continue attacking defenses in a variety of ways, Jennings will be the big inside target Trey Lance needs to make his elevation to the starting quarterback job a success.

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