Even though the 49ers were victorious to open the preseason, what transpired on the field was concerning. Injuries continued to pile up and the sloppy play that led to multiple dropped passes and 18 penalties was all too familiar. Still, despite the slow start, there were some bright spots to hang your hat on, specifically the play of rookie wide outs Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd.
As anyone who follows the team knows, San Francisco got very little out of its receivers in 2018, and made upgrading the position a priority in the draft this offseason. Samuel and Hurd not only bring talent to the group, but also a physical playing style that was on display against the Dallas Cowboys in the 17-9 win.
With the ball close to mid-field near the end of the third quarter, C.J. Beathard took a deep shot to Samuel and underthrew the pass a bit. Samuel adjusted in the air, and wrestled the ball from the outstretched arm of the defender for a 45-yard gain. The whole sequence was eye opening, as that ability to make a play on the ball in the air is the type of thing that the 49ers were sorely missing in the passing game.
Samuel also looked electric running the ball on a sweep play that netted 14-yards and showed he can be a versatile threat that Kyle Shanahan can get creative with.
As good as Samuel was, he still couldn’t outshine Hurd, who showed glimpses of being the red-zone threat the Niners have thirsted for. With the ball on the opponents 20 and his team trailing 6-0 late in the first half, the rookie hauled in a throw from Nick Mullens and muscled his way over a Cowboys’ defender for the score. Later the in the third, Hurd caught a four-yard touchdown from Beathard in which he used his 6-foot-4 frame to jump in the air and snag the ball.
After watching what Hurd was able to accomplish, it’s hard not to get excited about what this could mean to the 49ers red-zone woes. Under Shanahan, the team ranked 27th in red-zone proficiency in 2017 with 47.1% and last in 2018 with 41.2%. If Hurd can prove to be a go-to option in that area, it could dramatically change the dynamic of the offense.
While what the two rookies accomplished in their debuts was impressive, it’s important to note that it was mostly done playing with and against backups. Shanahan himself also stopped short of giving either too much praise, saying that while both made good plays, neither was consistent enough for his liking.
Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how much time these two get with the starting offense in practice, and where Shanahan decides to use them in Weeks 2 and 3 of the preseason. Their development will continue to be one of the more intriguing stories as we move towards the start of the regular season.