COMMENTARY | A.J. Jenkins is a 2nd year pro that was a 1st team All-Big Ten his final year with the Illini. Despite being picked in the 1st round, A.J. was only in on a total of 37 snaps all of last year and to pile on he dropped the only target sent his way. Consider this a missing person’s report regarding what had happened before and after his disappearance from football relativity.
How quickly the fans have wavered from the highly touted product out of the University of Illinois. A young man who possesses great speed (4.37 40-yard dash), a spring board beneath his cleats (38 1/2″ vertical leap), and for a player that stands 6’0ft has some of the longest arms (32 3/4″) and biggest hands (9 1/2″) he could have possibly been gifted with. When his named was announced on the first day 30th overall, Jenkins was stationed in his Mother’s lavatory, until a family member had kicked down the bathroom door and the phone was tossed to him. Surely, a day that he will never forget.
In Champaign, Illinois A.J. Jenkins was the majority shareholder of the passing attack. Of the 2,392 passing yards that were doled out in 2011, Jenkins took 1,276 of them. That equates to 53.3% of the passing yards. One of the smoothest route runners a fan could come across. Breaks in and out of cuts gracefully, without losing his stride. Has magnificent hands. Doesn’t wait for the ball to come into his body, instead plucks it out of the air.
Paul Petrino, not to be confused with his brother Bobby, was the offensive coordinator during the 2010-2011 season for the Illini. Jenkins considers Paul to be a “second father” to him as he is always demanding the best from his former player. Petrino heeded these words to his protege:
“I told A.J., ‘Go do it now,’ Make sure you get a run in tomorrow. Don’t relax. And make sure you have your ass in shape for minicamp.’“
Now to the disgust of 49ers’ coaching staff, Jenkins was ill-prepared for rookie minicamp. Perhaps a deep rooted problem within Jenkins that needs to be absolved. Here’s an excerpt from NFL.com listed under weaknesses, “He is a smooth runner, but he will take plays off and doesn’t seem to run every route as hard as the next.”
The pattern would follow him into letting up not finishing drills at full speed. There was a lot made out of Chris Owusu defeating A.J. twice in figure-8 drills, according to coaches – replay says differently. As the record shows Jenkins (#17) wins, but you can see he slows up just before the finish line as he’s peeking over towards Owusu.
Another example of lackadaisical effort from Jenkins is here. In short, Jenkins was suppose to run out for a deep pass but doesn’t. A receiver taking what the defense gives you is usually a good thing, but when it goes against the decree of your superior, that’s when there’s a problem. His inability to move up the depth chart and remain 5th receiver was now all but in stone.
The odds were already stacked against him with Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Randy Moss, and Mario Manningham ahead of him. He wouldn’t standout in the preseason. We fast forward up to the time where Williams and Manningham sustain injuries and Jenkins is called out by Harbaugh to “step up”. Which later we find out he wouldn’t be given the opportunity to, as the 49ers 2WR 2TE set with Moss and Crabtree is too prolific to contain. We don’t see any of the group that Harbaugh asked to step up until the NFC championship game against the Atlanta Falcons, where Chad Hall is given the nod over Jenkins for a play he would be the primary target on. The ball would fall incomplete. Harbaugh’s reasoning for inputting Hall over Jenkins was:
” We had a specific play that we felt Chad would be very good at … And that play got called in the game. A.J. was ahead of Chad on the depth chart had something happened to Michael (Crabtree) or Randy (Moss). “
Now coming into his second season, the humbled wideout put on six pounds of muscle over the course of six weeks training with fellow teammates Richardo Lockette and Colin Kaepernick. As if the window of opportunity wasn’t already open wide enough with the departure of Moss to go along with Williams and Manningham still recovering from their injuries, Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles during OTAs. Harbaugh needs the others to step up for the 2nd time in less than six months. And it will be A.J. Jenkins because he’s too good to fail. His measurables, résumé, and knack for being a play maker will prove to be something the 49ers’ offense will lean on in 2013. Expect by week 10 – after the bye week – for him to be regarded as the #1 receiver on the roster, and ‘Yes’ that’s considering the addition of Anquan Boldin.
George-Michael Bluth happens to be a self proclaimed expert of sports. In 2012 for his main fantasy team he scored tops in the league five straight weeks late in the season to only miss out on making the playoffs. Despite his shortcomings, you can find him patronizing other “experts” on twitter: @supraman1z