Back in February, just after the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens, wide receiver A.J. Jenkins already was looking toward the 2013 season.
After a rookie season in which he didn’t catch a single pass, the team’s No. 1 draft pick knew what he needed to do.
“Obviously, I want to contribute a lot more than I have been,” Jenkins told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “So I’m going to make that happen and come back bigger, faster, stronger.”
Evidently, Jenkins has been true to his word.
Now, more than three months later, people close to Jenkins have reported he has been a workout warrior. As Barrows noted in a followup story this week, “The former first-round wide receiver isn’t as skinny anymore.”
And for Jenkins, that’s a good thing. A year after he was the 49ers’ surprise No. 1 draft choice, the landscape has changed. His future has a big question mark dangling over it, with some wondering if he’s one of GM Trent Baalke’s rarities: a draft bust.
As he heads to training camp this summer, Jenkins is a back-of-the-pack candidate for playing time in a much deeper receiving group that includes starters Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams, Ricardo Lockette, fourth-round draft pick Quinton Patton and B.J. Daniels, a former South Florida quarterback who is expected to be tried at receiver and kick returner, too.
To get playing time this coming season and make that greater contribution he wants to make, Jenkins is going to have to be impressive when camp begins.
By all accounts, Barrows reports, Jenkins has worked hard the past three months to get better. He spent six weeks with 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Lockette in Atlanta working on strength and speed training, reports Barrows, who notes that recent photos of Jenkins show “a more bulked-up receiver.”
“I think A.J. will definitely surprise a lot of people this year,” Lockette told Barrows. “Last year, he took it as a building year. This year from what I’ve seen so far, it’s night and day. I expect big things out of him. He expects big things out of himself, and Kap expects big things out of him. I think Niner Nation and the Niner empire will be proud of what A.J. Jenkins brings to the field this year.”
If Jenkins can get off to a good start in training camp, it’s still possible that he could be first in line to win the No. 3 receiving spot, getting the bulk of the work as a slot receiver in three-wideout sets. After all, Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh loved his speed and play-making abilities as a standout receiver at Illinois. He still has everything he had in college – the quickness, speed and big-play potential – but now has more upper-body strength to battle defensive backs, something that was an apparent weakness as soon as he showed up in the Bay Area.
It’s possible that 2013 could be a breakout year for Jenkins, which would make Kaepernick very happy.
“We need another receiver,” Kaepernick said back in March. Now they’ve added Boldin and Patton – and possibly a brand, new Jenkins.