The San Francisco 49ers have had a tremendous amount of success in the draft during Trent Baalke’s tenure as their general manager. From acquiring Colin Kaepernick, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith to picking up solid mid-round guys; Baalke leads one of the best front offices in the entire National Football League.
So it should come as a bit of a surprise that San Francisco’s first-round pick from the 2012 NFL draft, A.J. Jenkins, may be on the roster bubble after just one season in the NFL. Rarely do you see someone selected that early struggle enough to see questions raised about his ability to make the 53-man roster.
This is exactly the situation that Jenkins finds himself in.
Reports from beat writers in Santa Clara have not been good over the first couple weeks of training camp, and Jenkins’ performance in San Francisco’s preseason opener Thursday tells us a story of a youngster who is struggling in nearly every single aspect of the game.
Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area filed the following report after San Francisco’s practice on Monday:
The only receivers who did not catch passes were Lavelle Hawkins and A.J. Jenkins. Hawkins had a reception for the scout-team offense in a 7-on-7 drill. Jenkins, who appeared to take fewer reps than he did during the first two weeks of practices, did not catch a pass on the day. He caught only one pass in Sunday’s practice.
Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee didn’t sound too much better in his daily recap of events in Santa Clara:
In the week leading up to Thursday’s game, Jenkins got more practice snaps than any other wide receiver and he was in on more plays – 39 – than any of the other receivers against Denver. What’s notable is that those opportunities have been curtailed over the last two practices as previously injured players like Kyle Williams and Kassim Osgood get worked into the mix and newcomers like Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins get more snaps.
It’s pretty disturbing that Jenkins cannot even produce against defensive backs that will be among the first 49ers cut in camp when rosters are decreased from their current levels of 90. Even more disturbing, any progression that Jenkins might have made from Year 1 to Year 2 seems to have taken a back seat to continued struggles. This is evidenced by the lack of snaps that he has taken since San Francisco’s preseason opener against the Denver Broncos on Thursday.
Jenkins did catch one pass in that game, but he proceeded to cough the ball up after hauling it in.
So, let’s review for a second.
1) Jenkins hasn’t progressed in route running.
2) He isn’t able to get open against less-than-stellar competition in practice.
3) He didn’t catch a single pass as a rookie.
4) He is taking less practice reps at this point in camp than when it began a couple weeks back.
5) Teammates are now coming out to question Jenkins’ mentality on the field.
Vernon Davis had the following to say about Jenkins:
I also explained to him (Jenkins) that when he comes to work, he’s got to be serious. You’ve got to be serious about this. You can’t play. You’ve got to learn as much as can and get better and grow, not just as an athlete but as a person.
While not an indictment of Jenkins and in the broader context utilized more as a rallying cry for the young receiver, Davis’ remarks could be seen as a veteran attempting to not only teach a youngster the nuances of life in the NFL, but maybe trying to light a fire under his butt.
After all, at some point production has to replace upside and Jenkins is entering that part of his career. We can hear all the reports we want to about how much he might have improved from his first training camp, but at the end of the day it is all about producing on the football field.
Jenkins has yet to do that, and time is running out.
Maiocco even went as far to lay out Jenkins’ contract numbers as a primer of a possible release and/or trade:
Keep in mind about A.J. Jenkins: 1) His $705,797 salary this season is guaranteed; and 2) His $1.021M salary for 2014 is guaranteed, too.
In this case, where there is talk there is substance.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com quoted head coach Jim Harbaugh of saying the following after San Francisco’s game against the Broncos:
Uh, could have been better… We got work to do in areas. When you turn the ball over four times, offensively, you have work to do.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, if you ask me.
The issue here with San Francisco is that it lost Michael Crabtree until at least November and no other young receiver is stepping up to fill the No. 2 receiving spot behind Anquan Boldin. In fact, the 49ers had to bring in both Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins in order to create competition in camp. Thus far, Collie is standing out more than any receiver outside of Boldin.
Long story, short.
If San Francisco feels that Jenkins is not one of its 53-best players when training camp comes to a conclusion later this month, he won’t be on the roster. At that point, it would be about either releasing him or finding a trade partner.
For his part, Jenkins has three more weeks to prove that he can actually be a viable player for the 49ers in 2013. It really is make-or-break time for the young receiver.
Amazing considering that just a calendar year ago he was thought of as San Francisco’s future No. 2 receiver opposite Crabtree. In this one case, we are getting to the point where we can say Baalke missed big time on a draft pick.
Odd, I know.
Vincent Frank is an NFL featured columnist at Bleacher Report.
Vincent is the head sports editor at eDraft, co-host of eDraft Sports Radio (which airs every Monday and Wednesday from 3-6 p.m. ET) and a fantasy writer for Pro Football Focus. He’s also the news director here at PFC and co-host of Football Debate Central with Ryan Riddle8:00-9:30 every Wednesday.