You’re more likely to find a five-leaf clover than A.J. Jenkins in a 49ers uniform. The 30th overall selection in the 2012 draft hasn’t played a down this season. Inactive since Week 2, the wide receiver has called into question whether the choice was a collosal waste. GM Trent Baalke and Coach Jim Harbaugh promise to answer critics in three years.
“For those scribes, pundits, so called experts, who have gone as far to say that (Jenkins) is going to be a bust, should just stop,” Harbaugh exclaimed in July training camp. “I recommend that because they are making themselves look more clueless than they’ve already did.”
Jenkins was attractive to receiver-starved NFL clubs for his top-flight speed and acceleration. As an Illinois senior, he caught 90 throws for 1276 yards and 8 touchdowns. However, San Francisco’s pick cued scoffs because Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle remained on the board. Both have made serviceable impressions this season.
NFL concerns with Jenkins date back to June minicamp, when the wideout struggled to keep pace with his 3rd string counterparts. Observers pondered if the Jacksonville, Florida native possessed the professionalism to train for the big leagues.
On Twitter, Jerry Rice offered Jenkins a chance to train on his legendary obstacle course, but there has not been official confirmation on the rookie’s behalf.
These days, Jenkins is an actor on the scout team, channeling his inner Robin Williams as he mimics the next game’s offensive matchup. One week, he’s Larry Fitzgerald. Another, he’s Sidney Rice.
“It’s a humbling experience,” Jenkins admitted. “You’re drafted in the first round and people tell you how great you are and all the other stuff. But when reality hits you, hey, right now it’s not my time to play, you kind of put things in perspective.”
And with perspective, there’s no need to panic. The 49ers are flush with talent out wide, depth that Steve Young would appreciate. Alongside Michael Crabtree, who’s on a career-high pace in touchdowns and first down receptions, is top free agent acquisition Mario Manningham and Randy Moss. Add in a surprising emergence from Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn Jr.’s experience, and there is no wiggle room for Jenkins.
Assuming GM Baalke retains Moss or Ginn Jr. but not both next offseason, this would leave Jenkins as the 5th wide receiver. Manningham’s and Williams’ deals expire in 2014, but the former is certainly in San Francisco’s future plans.
Jenkins didn’t ask for this. His rookie deal runs to 2016. The 6’, 190 pounder’s only option is ignoring circumstances and improving what he can. His primary objective should be increasing upper body strength, which would allow him to escape aggressive press coverage, a concern at Illinois. Jenkins also needs to work on his balance and field awareness, which is common for any rookie. And hitting the slopes with Rice probably wouldn’t hurt.
Jenkins and the sidelines are getting acquainted these days, but credit the 23 year old for staying upbeat and assisting his teammates. Perhaps a dose of humility was in store for the college star from 49ers management. It’s a long offseason ahead for Jenkins, but just maybe we’ll catch a glimpse of his vanishing act before the year’s gone.