Former Tennessee Vols standout Jauan Jennings has gone from a seventh-round pick who was considered a fringe roster player to one of the San Francisco 49ers’ most important offensive players.

Jennings likely isn’t a future Pro-Bowl player, but he’s currently operating as the 49ers’ No. 3 wide receiver, which is impressive for a player that was heavily criticized during the pre-draft process as not being fast enough to play in the NFL.

The former Vol ran a 4.72 during the combine, but San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said last season that Jennings’ game speed is much faster.

Jennings ended up catching 24 passes for 282 yards and five touchdowns last season. He also caught six passes for 43 yards in the playoffs this past season. Modest numbers at best, but the fact he’s a contributor for a playoff team says a lot about how far Jennings has come since he was recruited to Tennessee as a quarterback/defensive back.

And it sounds like he’s in line for an even more productive 2022 season.

Oct 26, 2019; Knoxville, TN, USA; Tennessee Volunteers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) runs for a touchdown against the South Carolina Gamecocks during the first half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN recently named the biggest surprise offseason standout for each NFL team and they went with Jennings for the 49ers.

Here’s what ESPN had to say about the former Vol fan favorite:

It wasn’t until Week 14 that Jennings began to emerge as an option in the Niners’ pass game last season, but once he did, he became one of their most reliable targets on third down and in the red zone. Jennings had 16 catches for 212 yards over the final five games with 11 of those receptions going for a touchdown or a first down. That momentum has carried into the offseason where Jennings and quarterback Trey Lance have displayed an easy chemistry that has made Jennings one of Lance’s favorite red zone targets. Coach Kyle Shanahan said Jennings has had his best offseason since he entered the league, a good sign his role will only continue to grow in 2022.

We know Jennings isn’t the fastest guy on the field. And he’s not the most athletic. But it would be hard to identify a tougher player than the Tennessee native.

Jennings never gives up on a play. He’s always fighting for extra yards. And those extra yards can be the difference in a drive continuing or stalling.

Not many players — especially wide receivers — have the ability to make those around them better. Jennings is one of those rare players who brings a unique energy to the field that’s contagious. That’s one of the many reasons why I think Jennings will have a long NFL career. He may not be the player that receives record-breaking contracts, but there’s always going to be a place for a guy like Jennings in the NFL.

Featured image via Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports