When the San Francisco 49ers drafted wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first-round, it raised some eyebrows across the Bay. The Niners had just signed veterans Randy Moss and Mario Manningham, and adding Jenkins to the mix didn’t make much sense considering some of their other glaring needs. The 49ers scouting department must have seen something special for general manager Trent Baalke to pull the trigger on the Illinois product.
So the question remains, did the 49ers make the right choice? I believe they did.
I’ve been mocking drafts since 2006, and in every draft you have both “risers” and “fallers.” The “risers” are college players rising up draft boards due to having a great pro-day, combine, and/or pre-draft visit. These players may not get the same recognition as their peers, but more than make up for it in their individual workouts. A “faller” is a player that was projected by many NFL scouts to meet a certain standard of expectations but instead disappoint in some form or another.
A.J. Jenkins falls in the category as a “riser.” He was sky-rocketing up draft boards leading up to the draft, especially after his combine. He ran a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash, made great plays, and passed with flying colors during the pre-draft visits.
So why was it surprising that Jenkins went in the first-round? Because he was a projected late third to early fourth round selection. With other notable receivers such as Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, and Kendall Wright leading a weak receiver draft class, it made the other players undesirable.
The Niners, however, did their due diligence and found themselves a diamond in the rough. When San Francisco was on the clock, it didn’t take general manager Trent Baalke long to make his decision. They had targeted Jenkins long before the draft, and when the time came, they didn’t hesitate, despite some scrutiny from NFL pundits.
So with the regular season practically over, how do we know Baalke made the right decision?
For starters, had the 49ers drafted another position, they would have needed to pick up a wide receiver off the street, as Jenkins services wouldn’t be available. Secondly, Jenkins provides the 49ers with another deep threat other than Moss. When you look at Jenkins combination of speed and agility, he reminds me a lot of former 49ers’ wide receiver Brandon Lloyd.
Lloyd, another Illinois alum, had the knack for making tough grabs in traffic. Like Jenkins, he was seldomly used his rookie year but made the most of it when called upon. I foresee the same outcome with Jenkins. The number of opportunities for Jenkins will be scarce, but if he gets his hands on the ball, he’s a threat. He’s a big play waiting to happen and with Mario Manningham and Kyle Williams out, look for him to “wow” you.
And lastly, Jenkins has the work ethic, desire, and passion to be great. He’s known to be a gym-rat and being able to transfer that positive energy on the football field will benefit both him and the 49ers in the long run.
Many players have the potential to be great, but without that burning desire to put in the work, they settle—not Jenkins. Despite limited playing time this year, Jenkins has continued his habitual routine of vigorous workouts, film-room study, and playbook analysis. He was just patiently waiting for his opportunity and it has finally come.
With the 49ers depth at the wide receiver position rapidly dwindling, look for Jenkins to step-up and prove to Niners’ faithful that he’s right where he belongs.