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San Francisco 49ers: 2013 Marks Make-or-Break Year for A.J. Jenkins

Much is at Stake for Jenkins in Year Two

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Opportunity knocks for A.J. Jenkins. As the 30th-overall selection in the 2012 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers made a heavy investment in the Illinois product. General manager Trent Baalke and the rest of the front office firmly believes that he has the talent to develop into a contributing member for their organization, but the 23-year-old wideout must turn those beliefs into reality.

Entering the 2013 season, Jenkins has the most to prove out of all of the 49ers. Below are three reasons why he must come up big this year:

3. Injury to Michael Crabtree

Even though the 49ers have shown that they can get by without a premier receiver, losing Michael Crabtree to a torn Achilles is devastating. It took four seasons, but he was beginning to turn the corner, justifying his first-round selection made by then-head coach Mike Singletary.

A healthy Crabtree along with Anquan Boldin might have landed Jenkins in the No. 3 role. With two experienced pass-catchers in front of him, the second-year 49er could have had the luxury of being eased into the offense.

But now that San Francisco's top wideout is expected to miss most of the regular season, the bar has been raised on Jenkins to step in and contribute. Having him replace Crabtree's 2012 production (85 catches for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns) is not very reasonable. However, if he can just play toward his strengths, he'll inherently make an impact for Colin Kaepernick & Co. Crabtree's loss will open doors for someone else to shine. Will that be Jenkins?

2. Competition in Training Camp and Preseason

The 49ers still feel that receiver is an area of weakness, and losing Crabtree to injury does not help matters. With much uncertainty surrounding the position, San Francisco added seven new wideouts who are currently on the roster via the draft and free agency. The team even worked out Austin Collie after Crabtree went down. In addition, the 49ers still have Chad Hall, Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham returning from last year's squad.

It's safe to say that there will be no shortage of competition. More specifically, Jenkins must stave off rookie Quinton Patton and Ricardo Lockette, as both have made strides throughout the offseason. Jenkins' tenure as a member of the 49ers is not only at stake for 2013, but for the seasons to follow. The six-foot wideout needs to get off to a fast start in training camp, and then make a lasting impression during the preseason.

After a rough rookie year, Jenkins needs to be nothing short of spectacular.

1. He was a First-Round Draft Pick

During his rookie campaign, Jenkins took part in just 37 snaps and dropped his lone target. After a disappointing start to his career, Jenkins will be on a short leash as he enters his sophomore campaign in the NFL.

As a first-round selection, much is expected of him to perform. He showed off his speed in college, routinely getting past defenders with fluid body control and improved route running. Jenkins led the Big Ten with 90 receptions and hauled in at least four catches in each game during his senior season. He could have provided the 49ers offense with some big-play firepower, but given the team's depth at receiver last year, Jenkins was not forced into the spotlight from the get-go.

However, the NFL is on another plane from the Big Ten. Professional cornerbacks are gifted with greater size and years of playing experience compared to collegiate secondaries. To help combat bigger, physical corners, Jenkins gained about 10 pounds in the offseason, putting him at roughly 200 pounds. Playing at a heavier weight should help him get through the grind of a 16-game season.

Training camp will help determine how far Jenkins has come. But he has worked out with Kaepernick early in the offseason, and was also a participant in OTAs and minicamp. The young receiver is at least putting his best foot forward in attempting to progress.

Travis Chan is a lifelong fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He is currently covering the team on the Yahoo! Contributor Network.

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