A.J. Jenkins was a big-play receiver for the University of Illinois. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Last season, the 49ers got instant impact from No. 1 draft pick Aldon Smith.
In 2012, however, some are doubting that top pick A.J. Jenkins will make a similar contribution.
After the rookie wide receiver’s performance in team workouts since he was drafted out of Illinois in April with the 30th overall selection, observers in some reports have said Jenkins was “the biggest letdown” of the spring.
Wrote Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat: “The Niners’ first-round pick looked like one of the worst wide receivers on the field most of minicamp. He didn’t play with the first- or second-team offense on Tuesday, and he didn’t catch a pass in scrimmages on Wednesday. He had trouble staying on his feet all three days, which was odd considering it was a non-contact minicamp. Overall, undrafted receivers Nathan Palmer and Brian Tyms caught many more passes and made more impressive plays than Jenkins did.”
Jenkins, a 6-foot, 192-pounder, is a speedy wideout and kick returner who ranks No. 3 all time in receptions for the Illini, with 167 catches for 2,432 yards and 19 touchdowns. The three-time all-academic Big Ten selection signed a four-year deal with the 49ers worth a reported $6.9 million.
After the team drafted him in April, both general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh indicated Jenkins was the man they had targeted all along.
And, despite the critiques of Jenkins’ performance on the field this spring, Harbaugh has told the media he has liked what he’s seen from Jenkins and is eager to see what he can do in training camp.
“Very fast, fast, fast,” Harbaugh said last month when asked about what he’d seen from Jenkins so far. “Excellent hands. He’s got the ability to get in and out of cuts with his foot speed and turn over. He doesn’t get stuck at the top of routes. He’s able to get out of those cuts. He’s right on track. A.J. Jenkins is going to be just fine.”
Others aren’t so sure.
A recent story for Pro Football Weekly quoted one anonymous “daily team observer” who said of Jenkins: “He displayed some flashes with a few really difficult catches, but he’s also looked really bad at times and he seems to have had problems staying on his feet.
“It’s early. Maybe he’ll show more in training camp.”
A story on NFL.com speculated that perhaps Jenkins needs to increase his upper-body strength in order to become an effective NFL receiver.
Matt Barrows, who covers the 49ers for the Sacramento Bee, wrote that Baalke has acknowledged Jenkins needs to get stronger to battle with the league's defensive backs. Barrows also noted that, despite his “rough spring,” Jenkins “continued to fight throughout the spring sessions.”
“It will be interesting to look for progress from him when the come on in training camp,” wrote Barrows.