For as long as the 49ers have been competitive under Kyle Shanahan, they’ve had a stellar third-down receiving target, usually out of the slot.
Kendrick Bourne took that mantle before signing with the New England Patriots in 2021. After a slow start to his rookie campaign, Jauan Jennings took hold of that role in earnest down the stretch of last season and has continued a torrid stretch on third downs into this year.
On Sunday, Jennings was largely responsible for the team’s lone touchdown drive.
He had a 13-yard reception on a third-and-10, followed by a 12-yard catch down the left sideline. On a third-and-1 three plays later, he ripped off another 12-yarder, plus the six yards added after a late hit from Chris Harris Jr.
The very next play, Jennings tracked a ball tipped by Tyrann Mathieu to the ground, snagging it on the floor for the lone touchdown of the game.
His third-down performance has continued even with the likes of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey all on the field at the same time.
He joined KNBR after the game to discuss his performance and assess why he’s been so effective, especially on third downs. Jennings wasn’t lost for confidence.
“On third downs, a lot of defenses want to go man-to-man and it just goes back into playing into my strengths,” Jennings said. “I can’t be guarded one-on-one.”
San Francisco (5-for-13 on third downs on Sunday) entered the game with the fifth-best third-down conversion rate in the NFL at 46.4 percent. Jennings had and led the team with six receptions (for 49 yards), accounting for three of the team’s five third-down conversions.
He said he expected to have what he perceives as favorable man-to-man coverage based on watching tape of the Saints.
“I knew this game, coming in, they were going to play a lot of man-to-man,” Jennings said. “I actually prefer man-to-man instead of zone. I think once you can catch the ball, you can score with the ball in your hands against man-to-man. That just goes with my strengths. I don’t think I can be guarded man-to-man.”
Per the Washington Post, Jennings came into the game with 10 first-down catches on third downs this season, good for ninth-most in the NFC. Brandon Aiyuk has eight (tied for 17th) and George Kittle has seven (tied for 20th).
No other team in the NFC has three players in the top-25 of that category.
Jennings said his affinity for third-down conversions has earned him a nickname from his trainer: “Chains.”
He said he doesn’t mind Greg Papa’s catchphrase for him, either:
“I like third-and-Jauan, too.”