Jalen Hurd Is a Name to Know in Fantasy Football With Trent Taylor Injured

Injuries are an unfortunate reality of the preseason, and the San Francisco 49ers were one of the first victims when they lost wide receiver Trent Taylor to a broken foot on Saturday night.

The outlook for Taylor isn't terrible -- according to ESPN's Nick Wagoner the team hopes to have him back in four to six weeks -- but his absence will create an opportunity for head coach Kyle Shanahan to get an extended look at other options.

Taylor works almost exclusively from the slot for San Francisco as 36 of his 41 targets came while lined up in the slot in 2018, according to Sports Info Solutions. Fortunately for the 49ers, third-round rookie Jalen Hurd appears tailor-made to step into that role.

Hurd's Slot Experience

It might sound odd to talk about experience as an asset for Hurd. After spending three years as a running back at Tennessee, Hurd transferred to Baylor to become a receiver. He practiced as a receiver while sitting out the 2017 season, but his senior year in 2018 was his only game experience at the position. However, the role he played for Matt Rhule's Bears prepared him perfectly to step in for Taylor in the slot in San Francisco.

According to Sports Info Solutions, Hurd saw 97 targets in the slot a season ago, eighth-most in college football. Here's a look at Hurd's performance in that role.

Split Catches-Targets Drops Yards/Target TDs
Hurd in Slot 65-97 6 9.2 3

Following the draft, 49ers general manager John Lynch spoke about Hurd lining up in a variety of spots in the offense.

Given his experience at running back and his height (6'5"), it's understandable that Lynch would view Hurd as a potential hybrid weapon. Unfortunately, from a fantasy perspective, it would probably be difficult for Hurd to make an impact in such a role during his rookie year -- especially given his limited experience at wide receiver.

If Taylor's absence creates consistent opportunities in the slot, however, it becomes much easier to envision a path for Hurd carving out a fantasy-relevant role in 2019. With plenty of experience in the slot, Hurd could quickly fit into that gig in the offense and be able to develop a connection with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Opportunities in Shanahan's Offense

Over the past few seasons, Kyle Shanahan's quarterbacks have consistently targeted the slot at a high rate. Here's some data on his slot usage over the past few seasons, per Sports Info Solutions.

Year Team/Job Percentage of Targets to Slot Primary Slot WR (Slot Targets)
2018 49ers HC 41.7% Trent Taylor (36)
2017 49ers HC 38.2% Marquise Goodwin (59)
2016 Falcons OC 45.3% Mohamed Sanu (70)

Taylor led all 49ers wide receivers with 36 targets in the slot a season ago, but he didn't exactly have a stranglehold on the job. Four other wide receivers -- Kendrick Bourne, Pierre Garcon, Dante Pettis, and Marquise Goodwin -- also saw at least 20 targets in the slot. Based on that relatively even distribution, it appears as though Shanahan isn't locked-in on Taylor being his only weapon in that role.

In past years, however, Shanahan has shown a willingness to rely heavily on one guy in the slot. While in Atlanta in 2016, Shanahan peppered Mohamed Sanu with 70 targets.

These trends tell us Taylor's job may not be safe once he returns from injury, and if Hurd excels in Taylor's absence, there is a potentially significant workload available to him in Shanahan's offense.

How to Approach Hurd in Fantasy Drafts

Hurd is the most logical replacement for Taylor in the slot, and he probably has the most fantasy upside of the 49ers' in-house options to replace Taylor. However, it's far from a guarantee he wins the job. Goodwin, Bourne and second-year receiver Richie James could also compete for playing time in the slot, and each has the benefit of experience in Shanahan's offense.

At this point, Hurd should still be viewed nothing more than a late-round dart throw -- but the payoff is potentially significant.

As Shanahan's slot receiver in 2016, Sanu finished as the WR54 in PPR leagues. That's not great, but he played in an offense dominated by Julio Jones. In San Francisco, there's isn't another wide receiver likely to command a Jones-like workload, which gives Hurd a higher ceiling.

Hurd scored two touchdowns in the 49ers' preseason opener against the Dallas Cowboys, one of which came while lined up in the slot. Keep on eye on reports of Hurd's progress throughout the rest of preseason and monitor his expected role in the offense. If he opens the season as the starter in the slot, he's probably worth stashing on your bench in hopes that he earns a high volume of targets and continues to see opportunities in the red zone.