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Very Deep Sleeper: Jalen Hurd (2019 Fantasy Football)

Aug 22, 2019

Draft analysts thought Jalen Hurd would be lucky to be drafted, and if he was it would be late in the process. But the 49ers shocked the draft community by taking Hurd #67 overall

R.C. Fischer discusses deep sleeper candidate, 49ers wide receiver Jalen Hurd in Season 4 of his Very Deep Sleeper series for FantasyPros. This piece is part of our article program that features quality content from experts exclusively at FantasyPros. For more insight from R.C. head to Fantasy Football Metrics.

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I don’t normally profile rookies in this Very Deep Sleeper series, but at this point, for almost all fantasy players, Jalen Hurd is not a highly desired/top rookie. In most 16-17 round redrafts, Hurd will most likely not even be selected. FantasyPros’ expert rankings have him #102 among all (standard/nonPPR) wide receiver options this preseason/#285 ranked player overall. If you want to take a shot on Hurd late in your redraft, you’re likely to get him any time you want him.  So we’ve got the “Very Deep” part covered – but is he truly a “Sleeper?”  Let me try to convince you…

Hurd presents a unique case for fantasy relevance in fantasy 2019… relevance for fantasy Week 1, and I’m going to make that case here. But Hurd has one of the more interesting backstories of the 2019 NFL Draft as well. “Interesting” is the word I chose, but “bizarre” would have worked just as well.

I’m going to hit on the backstory and then pitch you on why Hurd might matter right away for fantasy 2019 based on his talents and training camp observations I’ve had.

First, the backstory highlights…

— Five-star high school running back recruit in 2014. He set the (then) Tennessee state record for rushing yards and touchdowns in a season as a junior. He was also a state track star. Injured his shoulder as a senior and missed most of the campaign. Ends up staying in-state selecting Tennessee as his college choice.

— In 2014, as a true freshman for the Volunteers, as part of a rotational backfield, Hurd leads the team in rushing with 879 yards. In 2015, Hurd became the lead back working with a complementary back – some guy named Alvin Kamara. Hurd rushed for 1,285 yards (4th best in the SEC that season) and scored 14 total TDs in 13 games… nearly double the production of his sidekick Kamara.

— In 2016, Hurd got banged up, started playing hurt during the season, got into a rift with the coaching staff because the 6’4.5″/220-pound running back wanted to move to wide receiver to prolong his career and set up for the NFL. That choice was denied by the staff and Hurd abruptly quit the team/announced he was transferring in the middle of the 2016 season. You can imagine how well that was received in Tennessee…but this did help give rise to Alvin Kamara.

— Hurd sat out in 2017 as part of the transfer process and joined Baylor in 2018. At Baylor, Hurd played wide receiver primarily, but he was also involved in the running game quite a bit for a wide receiver – 69 catches, 946 yards, 4 TDs as a receiver…48 rushes for 209 yards and 3 TDs running the ball (4.0 carries per game).

His rushing attempts were sometimes on jet sweeps from the wide receiver position, but some were as a wildcat QB/RB or as a pure running back. Who wouldn’t want a 6’4″/220-pound guy who ran for 1,000+ yards in an SEC season to take some goal-line work?

I know who does! 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Jalen Hurd was seen as a gimmicky, questionable prospect for the 2019 NFL Draft. He received an NFL Combine invite but couldn’t do all the drills due to a minor knee injury. He did run at his Pro Day, and it wasn’t all that impressive for the analytics crowd – a 4.64 40-time, 4.15 shuttle, 35.5″ vertical. Big wide receivers like D.K. Metcalf and Miles Boykin wowed the NFL Combine watchers with speed/athleticism measuring far beyond what Hurd produced at his Pro Day.

Draft analysts thought Hurd would be lucky to be drafted, and if he was it would be late in the process. But the 49ers shocked the draft community by taking Hurd #67 overall… three picks after D.K. Metcalf, 26 picks before Miles Boykin.

The 49ers definitely see something. They’re obviously committed with the draft capital they spent. And that’s part of the reason for instant fantasy hope here.

Who do you believe will be the 49ers’ starting wide receiver trio Week 1 this season? Marquise Goodwin, you know… OK, who else? Deebo Samuel they drafted higher in 2019, so probably him but he isn’t spoken of as a starter. Jordan Matthews started as the #3 wide receiver in Preseason Week 2 with Pettis-Goodwin. Dante Pettis is supposed to be the guy, but now we’re hearing some trepidation/issues from 49ers’ camp. OK, maybe no one is really sure who is the starting wide receiver group for the 49ers… BUT you never hear of Hurd in the mix to start.

Observing 49ers training camp, I see mostly Goodwin with Pettis/Bourne/Matthews as the #1-2… with Trent Taylor as a #3 sometimes, or Bourne or Matthews depending upon Pettis’ availability. I rarely/never saw Hurd running extended time with the 1st-team in July/early August. Hurd-Samuel have run as the #1-2 punch for the 2nd-team.

But here’s the thing with Hurd in training camp – he may not be starting but he’s getting some time/play with ‘the 1s’ and they are very specific plays. Hurd is a player who has ‘a very particular set of skills‘ and Kyle Shanahan is utilizing them.

First, the obvious…the guy is nearly 6’5″ with a 78″+ wingspan and 10″ hands. He’s a great alley-oop option in the end zone.

Secondly, he’s an accomplished runner of the ball… as you would figure from his 1,000+ yard season in the SEC and working ahead of Alvin Kamara. In 49ers’ practices, I see Hurd running jet sweeps a lot in training camp/practices — like toss sweeps as he comes in motion and takes the pitch.

The coaching staff is acknowledging through camp that they are aware of the weapon they have here. And he’s just not a fast runner they’re getting some carries – he’s not a speed back, he’s a power back at 6’4″+/228. He works great near the goal line…imagine that size of wide receiver sprung to the outside on a sweep as 6’0″/190 DBs trying to stop him.

Here, see for yourself from his first preseason game:

I don’t believe Hurd will start Week 1, and possibly may not start all 2019 season. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t play a good chunk of snaps… and drilling down some more, the snaps he plays will be fantasy relevant ones – in the game as a red-zone force. I like what Hurd might do in non-PPR leagues this season… with the upside of — What if Pettis does go into the coach’s doghouse? What if Hurd does crack into the starting lineup quickly because he’s too much of a force not to? I’ve been moving his non-PPR seasonal projections higher in my Draft Guide as well as my Week 1 projections every few days based on his preseason work.

There’s 2019 fantasy hope with this current lowly ranked redraft wide receiver, Jalen Hurd, and it may happen a lot faster than anyone could have imagined. Potentially an incredible redraft preseason value pick on a guy currently ranked outside the top 100 wide receivers according to expert consensus.

2019 Very Deep Sleeper series (Season 4), so far:

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