Here at Niners Nation, we're presenting a series called "90-in-90". We'll be looking at every player on the San Francisco 49ers offseason roster, one player per post, from now until the start of training camp.
Today's 90 in 90 features a player you should be optimistic about, A.J. Jenkins. His rookie season wasn't a good one, and one that can be forgotten as we look ahead to 2013. In 2012, Jenkins wasn't in tip-top shape for training camp, was slow to grasp the playbook, and finished the season without a single catch. 2013 could turn out to be the exact opposite of Jenkins' rookie year after having a great offseason (so far). Jenkins joined Kaepernick shortly after the Super Bowl loss to the Ravens in Atlanta to gain chemistry with Kap, and then was a participant in OTAs and minicamp.
Given that Jenkins did not contribute as a rookie, it's probably helpful to look back at pre-draft scouting reports. My favorite is probably this one at Turf Show Times, written up by someone who followed him closely at Illinois. The folks at NE Patriots Draft have a solid one as well.
The general consensus, and something we've heard since the draft, is that Jenkins' size is an issue. Even in college, he had his struggles with press coverage. Jenkins has solid speed and moves, but at 6', 192 pounds, his size is an issue for now. When we're watching him this preseason, his work against press coverage will be the biggest thing to follow.
What to expect in 2013
I would still expect big improvements, and for A.J. to be a contributor. Don't believe me? Fair enough, but Colin Kaepernick believes Jenkins is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was last year, and Jim Harbaugh thought that A.J. had his best play as a 49er during minicamp. Greg Roman also saw some of the strides made by Jenkins, stating he made clutch catches during two-minute drill situations in practices. Even Donte Whitner tweeted about Jenkins when a fan asked which young Niners receiver had impressed him the most.
With the injury of Michael Crabtree, the 49ers need their receivers to step up and lessen the blow of Crabtree's absence. If all the 49ers players and coaches are right with their assessments of Jenkins' improvements, we should be somewhat confident that Jenkins can step up and help the 49ers win games. I don't know what the stats will end up being, my guess is over 40 receptions, but that will be at least 40 more than last season. The 49ers decided not to sign a veteran free agent when Crabtree went down due to injury, so unless there is a trade, this will be the receiving corps in the preseason. The 49ers must be confident in the receivers they have, and therefore should have a certain level of faith in A.J.
Odds of making the roster
Jenkins' odds of making the roster are very high, especially after the strides he has made this offseason improving his craft. Although I do believe A.J. will be a contributor and show promise in training camp and preseason, let's entertain the chance he doesn't. If Jenkins has a bad camp and preseason, I still don't see the 49ers parting ways with their 2012 first-round selection; it would be premature. A first-round pick is a big investment, and one they hope reaps rewards. Trent Baalke drafted Jenkins for a reason, and I have faith in his best-player-available philosophy, especially in the early rounds. He scored big in 2011 with Aldon Smith and Colin Kaepernick, and his grade for 2012 is to be determined. Jenkins will make the roster and have a chance to justify his first-round status.
Jenkins first season was a redshirt year, hardly seeing the field, and he has received a lot of criticism from writers and fans. It even seems some actually want him to fail, instead of pulling for the kid. A lot of people are going to have some explaining to do if he becomes a dangerous weapon in the passing game. "I knew A.J. was going to be great from the start!" said hardly anyone. I am rooting for Jenkins, and I hope you join me before the wagon leaves.
What do you expect from Jenkins in 2013?