With the 30th overall pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected a receiver to fill a graphically obvious need. In the 2011 NFC championship loss to the New York Giants, quarterback Alex Smith was productive in throwing to his tight ends and running backs ... and was 1 of 9 for 3 yards throwing to his receivers. So, Jim Harbaugh and his guys hunkered down, did their homework, and took Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins with that pick. Jenkins was under the radar compared to some other receivers in this draft, but even a cursory look at his collegiate work showed a player who could get open in space and make plays downfield -- just what the 49ers needed.
Now, Jenkins is far more in the public eye, but not for reasons expected -- or wanted. After showing up to rookie minicamp in May out of shape, according to several reports, you'd think that Jenkins would get with the program. "I'm back home [in Jacksonville] and thinking I'm in shape -- working out in the morning time," Jenkins said at the time. "You definitely see [this] is a totally different ball game, so you've got to get your mind right."
The rookie minicamp is Phase One of the NFL offseason regimen for any first-year player; the regular OTAs and minicamps comprise Phase Two. And according to Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, Phase Two isn't treating Jenkins any better than Phase One:
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. There's no rush for Jenkins to produce, though, because there seem to be at least four good wide receivers above him on the depth chart right now — [Michael] Crabtree, [Randy] Moss, [Mario] Manningham and [Kyle] Williams.
And since some seem to believe that Cohn's analysis carries some sort of agenda, here's Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
Jenkins had a rough spring. He had a hard time staying on his feet, fighting for position and often - very often -- was on the ground after the play. And this was in non-contact practices.
On draft day, GM Trent Baalke acknowledged that Jenkins needed to hit the weight room, and that need for improved strength was evident. To his credit, Jenkins didn't have any of the ticky tacky injuries that often befall wide receivers, especially young ones, in the offseason. And he continued to fight throughout the spring sessions. It will be interesting to look for progress from him when the pads come on in training camp.
Now, we don't know whether Jenkins is injured, or if something else is going on, and that's important to note before anybody goes Full Metal Jacket on the guy. However, it's a bit disturbing that a first-round pick would reportedly look so off during minicamps -- a period of the year in which guys who will never make a team can look like Supermen.
Harbaugh, who seems to maintain positivity on a no-matter-what basis this preseason, said that there's no reason for concern. "He's very into it, very gung-ho," Harbaugh told the media on Thursday. "Very fast — fast, fast. 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."
The 49ers had better hope so. While the team's other new acquisitions at the position (Moss, Manningham) are merging well with veterans trying to improve (Crabtree, Williams), Jenkins was taken with a great deal of talent left on the board. And if some of that receiver talent (like Brian Quick, Stephen Hill, Ryan Broyles, or Rueben Randle) shows more potential early on, there will be many more questions about San Francisco's first-round pick.
Whatever's going on, A.J. Jenkins needs to push the "reset" button before training camp starts in late July.