BLOOMINGTON, IN - OCTOBER 08: A.J. Jenkins #8 of the Illinois Illini catches a pass while defended by Lawrence Barnett #23 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the game at Memorial Stadium on October 8, 2011 in Bloomington, Indiana. Illinois won 41-20. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The San Francisco 49ers went about their business Thursday evening and surprised just about everybody with their decision to pick wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. Based on comments from Trent Baalke and Jim Harbaugh (transcripts after the jump), this was a pick the team was fully intent on making all day. According to Coach Harbaugh, Baalke wrote down a name Wednesday evening and it was in fact Jenkins' name. Baalke said it happened yesterday morning, but either way, if it is even partially true, it shows the plan.
This is particularly notable because of the all the rumors that circulated leading up to last night's first round. One frequent rumor late was that the 49ers were interested in OLB Bruce Irvin. This would seem to indicate that was not in fact the case.
Some folks wondered why the team did not trade back or simply use one of their existing day two picks on Jenkins. However, if reports out of St. Louis are true, it is entirely possible the Rams would have used their first pick of the second round on Jenkins. Peter King also tweeted that he heard from one team that liked Jenkins over Michael Floyd.
In reality, none of what those other teams think matters. The 49ers were fully intent on remaining true to their draft board, which should surprised nobody. This team has proven incredibly disciplined and confident in their personnel processes. Whether it be free agency or the draft, the 49ers have a plan and would appear to stick to that plan. They get our confidence after one successful offseason. Now we'll see if their confidence will be rewarded in year two.
General Manager Trent Baalke
Press Conference - April 26, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
So we understand you put his name in an envelope and kind of had it out there, and that was sort of the guy.
"Weeks ago, no. Who let that out of the bag, coach? We did that this morning, played around a little bit, and his name was the one that we wrote down and sealed the envelope. Once again, just let the board speak."
So that idea of putting his name in the envelope clearly means you like him. Does that also mean that you thought you liked him a little more than other teams might, that he would still be there?
"You never know. We joked around last week and had a little fun with it, and I made the mention that we had a guy in mind. It could have been anybody, right? I could have picked anybody right now and said, ‘that was the guy.' We had more than one person that we were excited about and you just line up the board, you go through that 365 day process to get to this day and you let the board speak and best player available. That's where it was, he was the best player on the board at the time, we felt, and we had opportunities to trade back and chose not to because we had the player valued where we picked him."
What made you more excited to draft him than some other wide receivers?
"Well, we like the talent. He's a gold helmet guy and he's obviously had a very productive career at Illinois. He's a guy that fits our system very well, from a trait standpoint, from a skills standpoint and has all the off-the-field intangibles that we're looking for as well. Feel he's going to be a great fit it in the locker room, a great addition to the offense, and now it's up to him. It's up to him to come in here and compete."
Were you yanking our chain or did you really have one guy in mind last week?
"I don't know. That's for you to decide."
Was this a blink case for you, or the first time you saw him, something struck you about him that this guy can play for our football team?
"Yeah, I think I mentioned that last week and I think any evaluator you talk to is going to have a pretty similiar mindset. I mean, when you look at a player, especially a player that you're going to take early, generally there's something something you see in them fairly early in the tape. You don't usually take first round guys that you got to watch 20 tapes of, or 20 games of, to decide he's a first round player. Now we still do all the work. We watch all the film. We talk to all the people that we can possibly talk to. This is a process here, it really is. It's about getting everybody involved. The more opinions you have, the more you stack them together, and what you're doing is trying to connect the dots. What you worry about is when you cannot connect the dots, and with A.J. we were able to do that."
Did you guys have him at 4.31 in the 40-yard dash?
"Yeah, the card that reads 4.31. That's what the card reads and really who cares. It's what they play to. There are players - you go back to [WR] Jerry Rice. The talk is Jerry ran 4.56 some say, some say 4.58. Some people that timed him say he never made it in the 4.5's, he was a 4-6 guy. All we know as 49er fans and everyone that played against him was he ran faster than anybody there. He ran as fast as he needed to. The thing that matters for us is how they play, do they play fast.
Do you know which scout A.J. first came on radar for? Which scout saw him first?
"Well, Ethan Waugh is the scout in that area. Ethan was in there early on. We go to all of our big schools three times, once during the training camp period and then twice during the fall. He had three chances to look at him. Our college director also cross checked the school, Joel Patton, and then myself. That's the fall, then you go through all the all-star games and he was in two all-star games. He was in the East/West, gave us a great chance to see him there. Had a great East/West performance and then was invited to the senior bowl. He went to the senior bowl on short notice and competed very well at the senior bowl. Went to the combine and did very well at the combine. So, A.J. is the type that responded to every challenge along the way and those are the types of guys we are looking for."
Did you see him play against UCLA?
"Did I see him live? I did not see him live. I was out of town when that game was being played. Tom Gamble actually went to that game and scouted him live there."
When you say he fits your system, can you talk generally what does that mean, the specifics with that?
"I think that's probably a better question, Coach [Harbaugh] was just in here, that's probably a better question for him. From my standpoint, from a personnel standpoint, you look at player and you look at where can he align. Some guys are strictly X's, some guys can sit in the slot, some guys are strictly Z's. We feel that this is a multi-aligned guy, a guy that can line up at any of those three spots and have success in our system. It creates a lot of versatility within the position group."
I think there were about six trades before you guys as the draft went on, were you expecting that many?
"I never go into it with any expectations, Cam. I really don't because you don't know. You can't control anything that happens ahead of you or behind you. You don't know who's coming up. You don't know who's coming back. Had we decided to trade back, there's a good chance that we would have lost him. I've always believed this, when I used to work for Coach [Bill] Parcells and Dick Hailey, Dick's mentality and Coach's mentality, if you like a player take them. If you like them at 30, what's the difference if you take him at 30 or 33 or 34. If you like the player, take them because if you don't take them and you trade back, you may not like the outcome. That was something last year with Aldon. Had we traded back, we would have lost Aldon. If we would have gone back two spots last year, we would have lost him. That sticks in your mind when you're sitting in the chair that I sit in. If you like the player, take him."
You mention Aldon, that was a surprise pick to a lot of people. This is a surprise pick to a lot of people. Is there some sort of sense that you guys find players that other people aren't really talking about?
"No, because I think if you follow this story a little longer and over the course of the next few days, you're going to find that there were a lot more people that liked A.J. than just the San Francisco 49ers. He would have gone a lot sooner tomorrow than a lot of people may think. I'll let you dig and find that information, but we're very confident in the pick and very glad to have A.J. on board. If it's one thing I know about our football team, our locker room is full of competitive guys. So those receivers that are in that locker room aren't going ‘ok, now which one of us is going to get cut.' That's not the mindset around here. The mindset around here is to compete. I'm very confident that we have the right group of people and players in that locker room and they'll accept this challenge. There's no guarantee that we won't go into the season with six on the roster. Many teams do it. We're going to keep the best 53 players regardless of position."
A.J. was very excited in his conference call, overly excited. When you made that call, how does his excitement rank from all of the draft picks that you've informed that you were selecting them?
"You love it when they're excited. You hope they're excited. You hope when you call them, they're not, ‘oh do I have to come to San Francisco?' He came out here; we had a great visit, obviously, with him. We liked the mindset that he has. We liked his team-first mentality, just how he carried himself. Just a class guy, a class act. Expect him to come in here, represent himself, represent this team, represent our community at a very high level."
Did it take him a while to get to the phone? He said he was away from the phone, his sister was yelling at him, his cousin had been pranking him. He didn't expect to go that high. Do you remember how many rings, or if it seemed like it took him a little while to get the call?
"I don't make the call. We have somebody make the call and then when he's on the line I come to the phone, so I don't know how long it took for him to answer the phone."
Jim mentioned his speed, his big hands, fluidity in his routes. Any other details jump out to you from the film in terms of his skills?
"Just a very accomplished route runner for a college [player]. His athleticism, the way he carries his speed into and out of his routes, the way he carries his speed through the catch. He's a guy that's very sure-handed, very good with the ball in his hand. We talked, if there's an area where A.J.'s got to get better in, it's called the weight room, and he will. He's had some unfortunate situations that haven't allowed him to fully attack the weight room in the offseason. Once he gets in there and figures out how to be a pro receiver, which we're very confident we can help him along in that area, we feel we've got a very good player. A very good fit for this system."
What happens tonight to get ready for tomorrow?
"Well, really not a lot. To be honest, the board is set. We don't tweak the board. We don't move people up because now all of a sudden the board looks different. The board stays as is throughout the draft. And as you're picking 30, what we're finding and what we knew is, obviously, a lot of good players are coming off the board before it gets to us. It's going to be no different tomorrow. There's going to be a lot of names that we would love to add to this roster that are going to come off the board before we're able to pick. But what we are confident in is the board. We're very confident in that we feel like its set up right and that we're going to get good players."
Sorry, what were the unfortunate situations that kept A.J. out of the weight room in the offseason?
"Well, I'm sure you can dig through the Illinois-like any player, there's no off-the-field issues whatsoever with the player. Injuries are a part of the game. Minor deals here and there. He's fine, he's healthy, he's ready to go and we're very confident that once he gets here and [Head Strength and Conditioning Coach] Mark [Uyeyama] gets his hands on him, good things are going to happen."
Is there a game that sticks out in your mind, in your memory, where he jumps out at you this past season?
"Well, I think the Northwestern game was a big game for him. The Penn State game a year ago was a big game for him. Off the top of my head those are two games where we feel he played very well and was given a lot of opportunities to make plays. But he's a guy who made plays his whole career when given those opportunities and feel once again, that his versatility in our system, his ability to multi-align and come from different areas of the field, is not only going to help our offense, but it's going to help the receiving corps in general because a lot of our guys are very versatile. And it really allows us to attack defenses. And the coaching staff can certainly get more involved in that if you want more information. But, we just like the versatility. We liked the traits. We liked the character. There was not much that you didn't like. There was a lot to like and that's why he's a 49er."
Head Coach Jim Harbaugh
Press Conference- April 26, 2012
San Francisco 49ers
"By now you know we've picked A.J. Jenkins. A.J.'s real excited about the pick. Talked to him on the phone. We're really excited about the pick. Lot of great traits. I think he's a heck of a football player. Fast. We've got him 4.31 on the card from Indy. He's got big hands, 9 and a half hands. Strong, tough player. Had a lot of catches, had a great season this past year. Everything lined up. I can give you this insight: that [General Manager] Trent Baalke last night put his name in an envelope and said ‘this is who we're going to pick.' We all agreed on it and it held true. That was the guy we wanted. That was the highest player on our board when the time came to pick him. We're very excited about the pick."
Is this the guy Trent was talking about when he talked to us?
"You'll have to ask Trent that."
But was he on him for awhile? Were you guys thinking for a couple days now, or maybe even a week, that this would be the guy you would want?
"Definitely somebody we had targeted. Never know how the board is going to go, how the round is going to go. But in this case, Trent, all our scouts had the board really nailed this year. It went off the way that we anticipated it. I give Trent a lot of credit, and all of our scouts a lot of credit. They really had the first round surmised. This is the guy we targeted and wanted to get."
A.J. was saying that he did pretty well on the football quiz you gave him during his visit. What was it like meeting him, what was that about?
"It was a great visit when A.J. came in. Everybody really enjoyed being around him. We had a very nice lunch, had a nice meeting on football. I gave him the quiz and he scored very well. I won't compare him to any other players, but he scored very well. He's a bright guy. A bright football guy. Gold helmet guy. Somebody that we're really pleased to have."
There were a couple other wide receivers who maybe were higher consensus picks. What drew you to A.J. as a receiver?
"Like I said, the speed. Very fluid in his routes. Very good route runner. I think somebody who can get separation the way he runs routes. I love the big hands. I love the strong, tough guy."
Does he fit a certain position, more than another? Is he a slot guy more than a flanker?
"I think he's going to be very versatile. We probably would start him out at one position and teach him that. Then we'll transition with him. He's a very smart guy, very bright guy. I don't think it will be a problem for him to pick up and learn multiple positions."
You don't like talking about the guys you didn't take, but TE Coby Fleener, obviously was there. Was there a temptation on your part or in the room to say let's take a look at Fleener there?
"There's no doubt there's a lot of very good football players in this draft. We feel like we made the pick that was best for us at that time. It's just so hard to compare them to other players in the draft. They're all good. Coby's a very good player. A.J.'s a very good player. You could say that about so many players in the draft."
To be clear, you're the one that called him? Because A.J. doesn't remember who called him.
"He was very excited. Trent talked to him first and then I got on the phone afterwards."
Did you work him out when he was here, Jim? Did you throw passes to him?
"Very excited about that. I think there are great players for a guy like A.J. to be mentored by and learn from, and also to compete with. I really look forward to watching that all play out. It's such an exciting time right now. I mentioned talking to A.J. earlier, and the excitement he has. It kind of reminds me of that movie Shawshank Redemption. Ellis Boyd ‘Red' Redding is on that bus getting ready to go meet his friend. The excitement he feels at the beginning of a journey whose outcome is uncertain. That's how I think these youngsters feel. They went into this day not knowing what their future was and now it's just beginning. And you do feel that excitement, like you can't sit still or hold a thought in your head. To a large extent, that's how we feel as an organization. Very excited about this."
Was he running pro-style routes at Illinois? Is this a guy you could see step right in and run your offense?
"Definitely will have the license to do that and he has the ability to do that. He'll compete for playing time to find his role, as will the other players on our football team."
Would you say he's advanced...
"I think he's good, I think he's good. Like I said, he's got a lot of ability. The speed, the hands, the route running ability, competitive nature. I think he's going to do just fine."
He didn't have a great throwing offense at Illinois during his career, how did he respond to that? A lot of receivers can get frustrated. How did he respond to that? Explain why he's a gold helmet guy.
"First of all, I'm not going to agree with you that they didn't have a great throwing offense at Illinois. I would have to slight my good friend [Illinois QB] Nathan Scheelhaase. I wouldn't do that. So what was the question?"
Some receivers in a non-explosive throwing game... they were not known for having a potent passing attack, but...
"He excelled. He caught 90 balls, well over 1,000 yards."
What made him a gold helmet guy?
"Talent, character, smart guy, just the kind of person he is. There's a lot of qualities that make up (a gold helmet guy). Wired right, you heard me say that before. Competitive, tough, those are the three biggest ones."
You mentioned he got a 4.31 (40-yard dash time), was that at his pro day?
"That's what we have on the card from Indy. His combine."
Did you go to his pro day?
"No. We watched it on film, his pro day."
"No, no. We were actually talking with Minnesota as well. They had called us."
Are there any standard questions on your quiz for potential players?
Do you reuse them or do you mix them up with each player who comes in here?
"It's been the same test."
Will you share some?
"General football questions. Questions about the rules, coverages, technical and also football trivia. Other sports trivia, kind of a ‘gym rat' type of test to see if a guy follows sports and knows the game."
LB Aldon Smith took it too last year I'm guessing?
You addressed it in free agency and now with your first round pick. How much of a need was explosive receiving. How much did you want to address that?
"How much? It's a big part of the game. We're glad we were able to get somebody who's explosive and talented, tough guy, smart guy like A.J. I don't think going into this draft there was a glaring need that we felt like we had to address, and therefore we felt like taking the best player that was on our board in that situation would be the way to go and how it would ultimately end up going. Had predicted that, but glad that it went that way. Glad we have A.J."
Was there a situation where A.J. was high in the front office's opinion and then the combine comes, he runs that fast time and he's elevated a little bit more, and more on your radar at that point?
"It's all a process. There's many factors that go into it. It's a jigsaw of factors. It's a process of putting it all together - the combine, the workouts. The biggest thing is what they do on their college tape. How they perform as a football player. That's the most striking thing. There's a lot of factors that weigh into it."
For QB Andrew Luck to go to one of your former teams, is that special to see? To actually see him up there as the number one pick finally?
"It was. I must say that it was. I was happy for Andrew. I was happy that was happening to him. I was happy for the Luck family, that that was happening to their family. Really spent three years coaching Andrew and another year recruiting him, four years, watching Andrew grow to what he is now. I'm thrilled for him and his family, that that was happening to him."
You already have three pretty accomplished wide receivers on the roster, with A.J. coming in, I know you're mantra is always the competition. What do you expect A.J.'s arrival to mean for the other three veterans and for A.J. himself, mixing in to that group?
"The biggest thing I would say is that could be said for every position on our football team. That no matter what position we picked in the first round or what position we pick in the second round, and the third, the fourth, etc., that's the reality of it. For a guy coming in to a position group on our football team, and for guys that are on our team at those position groups. We've got very good players already and very competitive players. I think anybody that comes in as a rookie has got to understand that now it's real real. It's going to get real fast, especially on our football team, because it will be competitive. But it's not self-centered. Guys aren't self-centered. It's competitive without being self-centered. Everybody understands that the only way we win is as a team. That will make us stronger."
Given the way you guys project the draft as it's going along, at what point did you either know or feel very strongly that you were going to get him?
"The pick before us, Baltimore. We didn't know what Baltimore would do. I think when Minnesota came up and made the trade with Baltimore, ‘Hey by the way, who you taking here?' Then we knew it wasn't going to be A.J. and we'd have our pick at 30. Really, up until that point you don't know for sure."
Was there a chance that you would have done that trade with Minnesota, gone back into the second and gotten this guy in the second round?
"We would have, had we not had our guy not be there. That's something we told Minnesota."