Now that Alex Smith has left town, it was only a matter of time before another player took his spot as the whipping boy for 49ers fans. Second year wide receiver A.J. Jenkins struggled through his rookie year, and given his first round status, that has led to quite a bit of hand-wringing about his future.
There are definitely reasons to be disappointed in Jenkins' first year, and to be wary moving forward. That being said, one part that is brought up in discussion needs to be clarified a little bit. Last year, Jenkins showed up to rookie minicamp and struggled with his conditioning. People have thrown that out there on occasion, but there is some context to consider.
Andrew9erfan posted a link to an Eric Branch article from 2012 that is worth considering. Back during the 2011 lockout, Aldon Smith showed up at the players' only workouts and was himself out of shape:
"I wish his agent would have warned him about this being a different level of training,"Sopoaga said at the time. "I was kind of feeling bad for him when our first time last week he was running the hills and he was drooling, he was throwing up. I was thinking ‘Uh oh, come on now. Welcome to the pros.'"
And there was more: Smith was so sore that he didn't even show up the next day at SJSU.
"He said he needed a back massage because his back was tight," Sopoaga said. "It was funny."
Obviously the lockout creates some contextual differences, but not being in NFL shape is not being in NFL shape. It is not an excuse for A.J. Jenkins being out of shape, but it's one point worth making as this debate rages on. Complain about A.J. Jenkins all you want, but I don't think we need to continue going back to the out of shape issue.
I bring this up because of the discussion in this FanPost asking whether this year is a make or break year for Jenkins. This is an important year for Jenkins, that much is clear. He faces a challenge at wide receiver with the addition of Quinton Patton, but if the 49ers can get development from both young wide receivers, they would find themselves in a tremendous position of strength at the wide receiver position.