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Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins played in the preseason, then not much after that. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
In his senior season at the University of Illinois, A.J. Jenkins caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns.
In his first season with the 49ers, Jenkins’ magic number was zero: zero catches, zero yards, zero touchdowns and zero contributions to a team that came within a touchdown of winning Super Bowl XLVII.
Even when season-ending injuries put starting wideout Mario Manningham and backup Kyle Williams on the sideline, Jenkins – the 30th overall choice in April’s NFL draft – could barely get on the field.
He played three snaps in Sunday’s Super Bowl loss to the Ravens, but a pass never was thrown in his direction. He had one pass thrown to him in the regular season, and he dropped it.
With the season now over, Jenkins says he wants the 2013 season to be far different. He’s hungry to contribute in a big way and told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee this week that he wants to be “a totally different player” next season.
“Obviously, I want to contribute a lot more than I have been,” Jenkins said. “So I’m going to make that happen and come back bigger, faster, stronger.”
Jenkins told Barrows he plans to work out this offseason with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, with whom he has a good rapport.
“Me and him already are great friends off the field,” Jenkins said of the 49ers’ young starter. “So hopefully, we can get that chemistry on the field.”
In the past two seasons, Jenkins has been the outlier in GM Trent Baalke’s drafts. The 2011 class produced impact players galore, with Aldon Smith, Kaepernick, Bruce Miller and Kendall Hunter, among many. And the Niners’ second-round pick in 2012, LaMichael James, eventually became a big piece of the offense after Hunter was lost for the season in November.
But Jenkins, San Francisco’s top pick in April – a player the team was very excited to get – mostly sat and watched this season.
At the time of the draft, head coach Jim Harbaugh said he and Baalke had coveted Jenkins, and had even put his name in an envelope before the selection process.
They liked his quick, breakaway speed and his good hands.
“Trent Baalke last night put his name in an envelope and said, ‘This is who we’re going to pick,’ ” Harbaugh said after the Niners selected Jenkins. “We all agreed on it and it held true. That was the guy we wanted and that was the highest player on the board when the time came to pick him.”
Yet within weeks, questions started to come out of workouts and minicamps that Jenkins might not be able to cope against NFL defenders. That at 6 feet and 192 pounds he might not be strong enough – especially in the upper body and arms – to fend off defensive backs coming out of cuts.
Harbaugh defended Jenkins in the summer and said Jenkins was making progress. Yet, once the season began, Jenkins didn’t play.
Now, with receivers Randy Moss and Ted Ginn Jr. entering free agency and Manningham and Williams coming off injuries, the Niners would love to have Jenkins step up next season.
Jenkins says he’s going to hit the weights hard this offseason to make himself stronger, and will work with team strength coach Mark Uyeyama.
“Obviously, they made me a first-round choice for that purpose,” he said of being a playmaker in the NFL. “I’m going to be accountable this offseason and make myself the kind of player that they want me to be.”