Two men. Two different positions. Two somewhat similar paths. Same college. Same pro team. No, this isn’t the pitch for a new movie. It’s the story of San Francisco 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley and wide receiver Jauan Jennings.
Moseley was a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, starting his career with San Francisco on the practice squad. He was promoted to the active roster in October 2018 and made his NFL debut on November 1, 2018 but suffered a shoulder injury and spent the rest of the season on IR.
“They’re both similar, to me,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “They’re both such scrappy dudes, they just compete every single day. How you guys see them on gameday is the same as how I see them in OTAs or training camp or practice…[T]hey have that same style…[T]hat’s why they get so much better each day. Every day they’re trying to be their best and you just keep stacking up days and you don’t have setbacks with injuries and usually those things happen to guys like that.”
Jennings was a seventh-round draft pick, who also started his career with San Francisco on the practice squad. He was placed on practice squad IR in October 2020. In other words, for both Moseley and Jennings, making it in the NFL was an uphill battle. Moseley is now a starter and Jennings has established himself as the 49ers’ No. 3 receiver and Mr. 3rd Down Conversion.
“Both of those guys are very competitive, fiery guys and it’s really cool to see where both of them started in the NFL…” said 49ers’ defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. “It doesn’t matter where you get in, but it’s about the attitude and the mentality that you bring…It’s about that daily grind of continuing to get better and that’s what you see from E-Man and Jauan.
“Those are two guys who have become really good players for us, guys we count on Sundays and they come through in the clutch. So it’s a cool story with both of those guys being teammates in college and to be teammates here in the NFL and both guys still excelling at their craft and still not only thinking that they’ve made it, and they’ve arrived, but I see two guys there who continue to push each other and continue to get better at practice.”
They may both be “fiery” but their personalities differ. Jennings can be seen singing with impressive dance moves on the practice field and pregame, while Moseley is quieter with his headphones on or head down and working.
But that hasn’t stopped the friendship or the competition.
“You hit him up, he’s going to hit you back,” Jennings said. “And just seeing how far he’s come…Every time I see him make a play, just how much work he put in. So it’s the same thing. I love going to war with bro, so I got to play my best for him.”
Moseley and Jennings often go against each other in practice, which is something that started in college, once Jennings moved from quarterback to wide receiver.
“Once they moved him to receiver, we saw each other a lot,” Moseley said. “I mean even if we could go back to college days one-on-ones, we used to go at it. He’d win some, I’d win some and it was just a dog fight, because I think we were both two type of dogs on the field. So when he came here, when he actually got drafted, it brought tears my eyes because I understand where he came from. I understand hard he worked just to get to where we are now. So even today, one-on-ones, we’re going at it, trying to make each other better.”
Those one-on-ones happening at the SAP Performance Facility are noticeable to their teammates on both sides of the ball.
“[O]bviously, during the play, they’re trying to beat each other,” said cornerback Dontae Johnson. “So I think that’s for sure helped them grow as players. And it’s very evident after the play. They talk to each other and appreciate this or that…So they really do work well with each other, and…they just like to compete against each other, and I think that’s helped transcend them into the roles that they have now.”
Rookie wide receiver Danny Gray has noticed a little extra spiciness when the two Volunteer-alums are lining up against each other.
“What I see from Jauan, almost every day is that guy, he never gives up on the play,” said rookie wide receiver Danny Gray. “He’s always going to give you 110% and he always going to bring out the best in his defender. So I know [he and Moseley] go at it, when they’re across from each other, you can tell that it’s been going on for years. So they make each other better every day and they just want to see each other win. Every day is going to be work between those two.”
Before drafting Jennings, the 49ers talked to Moseley about the receiver and Moseley told them “he was a dog. What you see is what you get.”
For Jennings, the idea of playing in the NFL with his college teammate and friend was next level.
“It just felt like a dream,” Jennings said. “But I just was so ready to come to work. Just seeing what they had just done in 2019 and me getting here in 2020, it’s just a dream come true and I’m just glad to be here. I can’t wait to keep going. I want to win the Super Bowl with Brody. I just know how much it would mean to him and me and this whole journey.”
The Jennings dog mentality is how Moseley’s teammates describe him as well, and it’s why he’s been able to find so much success in the league.
“I think E-Man is a dog,” said cornerback Charvarius Ward, who is in his first season with San Francisco. “I think he’s one of the more underrated corners in the league. He got great Off Man Technique, great Press Man Technique…[T]he front seven in this game steal the thunder a lot, but on the back end, I feel like he’s been locking up for majority of this career…Like this camp and OTAs, he was showing me some stuff. I was like, ‘Dang, I didn’t know he was that good.’ … So I knew he was a dog as soon as I saw him in person.”
Though Ward didn’t know they were college teammates until the undefeated Volunteers started their 2022 campaign.
“Honestly I didn’t know they was college teammates until recently…since Tennessee has been winning and both of them have been bragging about their team,” Ward said.
Is there a college football fan anywhere that doesn’t feel that in their soul?
And speaking of college football fans, Tennessee has some, shall we say, passionate ones, which prepared the two well for NFL fans, who are also, shall we say, passionate.
“The fans are intense, as much as they love you,” Moseley said. “So you lose a game, you may see some things or get messages or whatnot. So it just prepares you for the NFL, because the NFL is no different. Fans are the same way. So sometimes you got to laugh at it and then you actually learn to not even look at it. And then on the football side, I would say I think you go against the best guys in the SEC. Most of the guys in the SEC, they end up making it to the NFL. You’re playing against the same guys. So I would definitely say Tennessee prepared me for that.”
The Big 10 would like a word, so let’s hear from University of Michigan-alum and second-year corner Ambry Thomas. Did you guys really think with all this SEC-talk, there wouldn’t be a Michigan reference?
“I remember E-Man being out for a minute when I first got here,” Thomas said. “Once he came back, he started snapping. I think that was my first time seeing E-Man and I was like, dang, this dude is good.”
Linebacker Fred Warner was a third round pick for the 49ers in 2018, so he and Moseley started their careers together.
“[They’re] two of the best players on our team,” said Warner of Moseley and Jennings. “I feel like I’ve spoken on Jauan before and how highly I think of him, the way that he plays the game. I really like just the physicality and the way that he goes about his business and E-Man, me and him came in together. We’re like brothers and I, just to see the ascension that he’s had, being a lockdown corner now for our defense. There are not many better in the game, in my opinion.”
Save Ward and Moseley, the 49ers have a relatively young cornerback room, so for 2021 fifth-round draft pick Deommodore Lenoir, Moseley sets an example.
“I believe that he’s one of the top corners in the league and he’s highly underrated,” Lenoir said. “Just seeing him work every day, come to practice…looking to get better and just knowing the knowledge of the game…yeah, he’s highly underrated.”
The fight in both players is noticeable in games and in practice.
“You see dog on dog,” Thomas said. “Most definitely. When we’re out there, you see dudes ready to fight and get after it. It’s serious out there, but when you see those two, you know what it is.”
And though it is serious, and the NFL is a business, it’s also a game and it’s fun, something that’s important not to lose sight of.
“I get to go score touchdowns, run some cool routes,” Jennings said. “I’m in the NFL. I’m playing with some superstars. So it’s just all of that is just cool to me. And like I said, win the Super Bowl. That’s what I want to do. That’s what’s cool. You can win a Super Bowl. That’s what’s really cool. You can win and be the best in the world.”
When times get tougher or things look bleak, Moseley finds ways to put it in perspective and keep going and remember how he fell in love with football.
“I’ve been banged up in my career,” the corner said. “So you go home sometimes and it’s dark, think crazy thoughts in your head and you’re just like, man, but you got to go back to your younger days. And just understand that this is a game. You’ve got to have fun. Adversity happens and you just got to keep going…When adversity hits, you’ve just got to keep going and understand that there’s some positive behind it.”
Having your college teammate lining up across from you every day helps.
“That’s my brother,” Moseley said. “I love him to death. You know what I mean? Just looking forward to seeing where his career can go.”
And after that, they hugged. Go team go.