Despite a record setting season by All-Pro outside linebacker Aldon Smith, the 49ers ranked 22nd in total sacks in 2012 with just 38. When you consider Smith and Ahmad Brooks accounted for 26 of those sacks (19.5 and 6.5 respectively) this stat becomes even more alarming. Perhaps it can be justified when you consider the 49ers blitzed the quarterback only 21.5% of the time, ranking 26th in the league. Still for a defense that has a reputation for being aggressive it seems odd that the Niners ranked in the bottom third in sacks.
Behind Smith and Brooks there are a lot of unknowns. Back-up Parys Haralson would add nice depth in 2013 but his $2.5 million salary make him a cap casualty candidate. Rookies Darius Fleming and Cam Johnson battled injuries and did not see any significant playing time in 2012. Whether it's scheme or just lack of production, it's clear the 49ers need another dynamic pass rusher.
Brandon Jenkins from Florida State is a name that's been tossed around by 49ers fans since 2011. Jenkins was considered a 1-2 round pick last year but returned to FSU for his senior year as one of nation's top pass rushers. He tallied with 22.5 sacks and 37.5 tackles for loss in his career and was on watch lists for the Lott Impact Trophy, Bednarik Award and Nagurski Award entering senior season. Unfortunately that season was cut short when he suffered a Lisfranc injury to his left foot in the first game of the season.
- Exceptional athleticism and speed off the edge with ability to fire off the line of scrimmage with authority. Jenkins' speed can often force opposing tackles into mistakes.
- Excellent technique when rushing the passer. As noted above, his speed can force tackles into recovery mode allowing Jenkins to utilize his athleticism and an array of moves (swim, dip and rip, and spin) to put pressure on the quarterback.
- At 6-3 260lbs and lanky, Jenkins' has a frame capable of adding strength without hindering his speed.
- During his junior year at FSU, Jenkins was utilized more as a stand up rusher and even dropped into coverage several times a game. While he'll still need work in these areas, he at least has a decent amont of experence.
- The biggest concern with Jenkins is the recent Lisfranc injury. While we've seen players return to the game a year after suffering the injury (Matt Shaub in 2011 and Dwight Freeney in 2007) there isn't enough of a sample size to say with any certainty that the injury won't linger.
- While Jenkins pass rushing ablity might be second to none, his run defense leaves more to be desired. His aggressiveness and speed can often take him out of plays early. In other cases, he simply doesn't have the upper body strength to take on multiple run blocks.
- Lacks coverage skills to translate to every down linebacker right away. Jenkins will need time to understand technique and concepts before he can be trusted in pass coverage.
Doing your homework:
Check out the video from Jenkins' breakout 2010 campaign against South Carolina in the Chic-Fil-A Bowl and Virginia Tech. You can also visit DraftBreakdown.com and see other videos from 2011 against Maryland, Clemson, and Notre Dame.
Why he fits the 49ers:
Jenkins sort of reminds me of Aldon Smith. While not as strong as Aldon, Jenkins has a knack for getting to the quarterback. His excellent burst off the line make him someone that defense must account for at all times. I can see him being utilized in a similar way that Smith was his rookie year.
As a pass rush speciliast, Jenkins could play only passing downs and give the Niners a formidable speed rush duo off the edges. This would also allow Jenkins to learn coverage concepts and provide ample recovery time given his year away from the game.
Why he might not fit the 49ers:
The 49ers already have a Brandon Jenkins and his name is Aldon Smith. Jenkins would need to learn to play coming off the left side, mostly, as Smith currently occupies the right. Would using a 2-4 round pick on a guy that would likely play only 30-40% of the snaps be smart?
While it's unlikely the Lisfranc injury would linger, there are just too many questions on just how it could affect his best attribute...speed.
What they're saying:
-Rob Rang of CBS Sports says of Jenkins:
"Jenkins possesses the long arms and appears to have the agility and speed to handle the transition to outside linebacker for teams operating out of the 3-4 alignment."
Jenkins college production reminds me of defensive end's Mathias Kiwanuka (New York Giants) and safety William Moore's (Atlanta Falcons) college career where they both had great junior seasons but because of injuries their senior year did not live up to expectations, but both have become solid playmakers for their team. Jenkins has that same capability with his overall athleticism, great instincts, and foot quickness to make an impact for several teams. His draft stock may have fallen some because of the injuries, but he has first round talent. If he is selected later than that he could be a virtual steal for a team who is in need of an edge rusher. He has the athleticism to play the 4-3 defense rush end or the 3-4 defense outside rush linebacker positions.
- Jenkins is listed by SB Nation's Dan Kadar as #64 overall on the SB Nation Big Board.
Jenkins has first round talent and had he stayed healthy we'd likely be talking about him as a potential top 20 pick. Since he didn't, a team is going to get a steal in the early to mid rounds. (I think Jenkins will likely be a third round pick.) His speed off the edge and ability to pressure the pocket on nearly every down should enough to overcome the questions about the injury and how well he'll translate to the 3-4.