U ain’t J.J. It’s Jauan Jennings’ Instagram handle, but it also embodies the player and what he does for the San Francisco 49ers.
“Jauan, he’s one of a kind,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “Just watch him on run plays. He does those run plays like he does that third-and-seven when there’s three guys trying to tackle him. Jauan’s on another level of confidence, energy. The only person who holds Jauan back is us. Jauan is ready to take over at all times is his mindset. And that’s why when we come to him, whether it’s every few games or a bunch in one game he always seems like he’s going to rise to the occasion and make one of the most important plays in the game.”
Can't stop third and Jauan 😤
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 24, 2023
Two of those plays have come in the last two weeks. On Thanksgiving night in Seattle, it was Jennings fighting off three defenders for a key first down that led to a touchdown later in the drive. 49ers cornerback Deommodore Lenoir called it “a play [he’d] never forget.”
Last Sunday in Philadelphia, Jennings evaded a defender on his way to the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown to put the game out of reach for the Eagles.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 3, 2023
“He’s so consistent.” said 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy. “J.J. brings so much juice and swagger to the team, like when he catches the ball and he converts a first down, everyone feeds off it and you could see it. He has fun playing the game, in meetings, around this place, in the locker room. J.J., he’s got a different vibe to him and we all love it…So for him to be able to get those balls like he did in the game, some crucial third-down conversions and then obviously the touchdown, well worth it. We love him.”
The aforementioned plays came on 3rd-and-7 and 3rd-and-5, respectively. Jennings is known as a third-down specialist, with the 3rd-and-Jauan moniker to go with it. But he’s ready every down.
“Jauan is just like the epitome of selflessness,” said 49ers fullback, and Jennings’ locker mate, Kyle Juszczyk. “Whatever role he’s given, he’s going to make the absolute most out of it. And so if that is just being called on for third downs to make those conversions, he’s going to go do that. If that’s blocking his ass off to the final whistle and maybe a little bit after on run plays, he’s going to do that. And really that’s just Jauan’s personality. He’s going to do everything to the max and always try to help out the team as much as possible.”
Understandably, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk get the majority of the accolades as far as wide receivers go, at least nationally. But it’s players like Jennings that help make it possible for the stars to do what they do.
“He’s a dog,” Christian McCaffrey said. “He’s such a good player, man…Deebo and Brandon get so much limelight and credit, but when you look at what he does, not just with the ball in his hands, but blocking, he’s such a special football player that’s very difficult to achieve. He’s a tone setter. He is a guy that you love to have on your team.”
Jennings has always been passionate, but in college, that passion could sometimes erupt. In the NFL, Jennings has harnessed that energy and turned it into a positive, often invoking that reaction from defenders.
“I used to be fiery, when I didn’t get my way, when I didn’t get the ball,” Jennings said. “I think I’ve just matured, just my temper. I’m just so proud of myself. I’m just, I’m glad that I can just stay even-headed the whole time…This opportunity is just really small and you’d be sad to lose it over something stupid.”
The 2020 seventh-round draft pick has matured in other ways as well.
“It’s not like what he’s being asked to do is simple as far as…his role,” Juszczyk said. “The plays are not simple. He has to be locked in, because his role is to continuously growing and more is added onto his plate each and every week…He wears a lot of different hats. He does play outside on third downs, but he also mixes things up in the box and so he has to understand the run game and the passing game. His ability to concentrate and really comprehend game plans is where I’ve seen the most maturity from him.”
A refusal to go down without a fight is a trait of Jennings, Samuel and, of course, tight end George Kittle.
“Honestly, the coolest things from Jauan last week in Philly was, and you can go back and you can look at, there’s three run plays where he’s knocking people on the ground,” Kittle said. “He takes their deepest bend and knocks them five yards down the field on the back side of an outside zone where he actually doesn’t have to block anybody, because they went in the other direction. So just his effort, his mindset, he’s going to be scrappy. He’s going to hit people.”
It keeps coming back to selflessness.
“Jauan is going to be Jauan every day,” Lenoir said. “He don’t change for nobody…Jauan just most unselfish, because he gets the minimum of targets, and when he get that ball, that boy is a dog.”
The prolific 49ers offense does not run – literally and figuratively – without Jennings. As Shanahan said, he’s one of a kind. The rest ain’t J.J.