By now, you’ve seen what I’ve seen from A.J. Jenkins the past two training camps:
A wide receiver utterly overmatched by starting NFL cornerbacks. Friday night against the Chiefs, he faced their starting right cornerback Sean Smith and could not shake him. When Smith decided to press Jenkins, Smith swallowed him up. Jenkins couldn’t get past the line of scrimmage.
Jenkins is the eighth or ninth-best wide receiver on the 49ers. Anquan Boldin, Marlon Moore, Kyle Williams, Austin Collie, Quinton Patton, Chad Hall, Chuck Jacobs and Lavelle Hawkins all are better than Jenkins. He doesn’t deserve a spot on the 49ers’ 53-man roster. He’s one of the biggest busts in 49ers’ franchise history, up there with Kentwan Balmer, Rashaun Woods and Jim Druckenmiller.
But this isn’t a pile-on-Jenkins column. He didn’t draft himself in the first round, and he may become a decent receiver one day. He has the physical tools to do so. He just may not have the temperament or will.
This column is about the general manager, Trent Baalke. Actually, it’s about the entire 49ers front office, including Jim Harbaugh. We assume they work together, coaches, scouts and general manager.
Collectively, they stink at drafting wide receivers.
They’re brilliant at drafting other positions, like linebacker and guard and fullback – the bruisers. But when it comes to more finesse positions like wide receiver and cornerback, the 49ers have been lost for almost two decades.
The 49ers drafted Terrell Owens in the third round of the 1996 draft. Dwight Clark picked him. That was a brilliant pick.
Since then, the 49ers have drafted 17 wide receivers: Ryan Thelwell, Tai Streets, Cedrick Wilson, Brandon Lloyd, Arnaz Battle, Rashaun Woods, Derrick Hamilton, Rasheed Marshall, Marcus Maxwell, Brandon Williams, Jason Hill, Josh Morgan, Michael Crabtree, Kyle Williams, Ronald Johnson, A.J. Jenkins and Quinton Patton. Ugh.
Crabtree was a good pick, but he was a no-brainer when he fell to the 49ers at No. 10. Brandon Lloyd was a pretty good pick, but he never did much for the 49ers and he had only one 1,000-yard season in his 10-year career. Woods was a first-round bust. Brandon Williams and Jason Hill were third-round busts.
Maybe it’s time the 49ers reexamine their axioms for drafting wide receivers.
With Jenkins, it’s almost like the 49ers saw his 4.3 speed, long arms and big hands and believed they could coach the rest. So far, they haven’t.
Here is a common-sense axiom the 49ers’ front office should consider: Never draft a wide receiver in the first round unless he’s a flat-out stud. No one ever thought Jenkins was a flat-out stud.
He wasn’t even invited to the Senior Bowl at first, meaning NFL scouts didn’t consider him one of the top-10 senior wide receivers in the country. Jenkins eventually made the Senior Bowl roster as an injury replacement for Marquis Maze and caught just one pass in the game. He played poorly against the best college seniors in the country.
He also played poorly against the best teams in the Big Ten, averaging just 63.5 yards receiving per game and scoring zero touchdowns his senior season against Ohio State, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. You can’t draft a receiver in the first round with that many red flags.
When Bill Walsh ran the 49ers from 1979 to 1988, he drafted one wide receiver in the first round. His name was Jerry Rice. Walsh drafted just eight receivers total over those 10 years, and only two higher than the fourth round – Rice and John Taylor. Walsh drafted Taylor in the third round.
Al Davis ran the Raiders from 1966 to 2011, and over those 45 years he drafted only seven receivers before the fourth round – Darrius Heyward-Bey, Johnnie Lee Higgins, Jerry Porter, Tim Brown, Tim Moffett, Jessie Hester and Mike Siani. Davis drafted all-time-great receiver Cliff Branch in the fourth round.
It seems Davis and Walsh shared a fundamental wide receiver axiom – don’t draft one before the fourth round unless he is special.
Maybe Harbaugh and Baalke already have learned from their mistakes and picked up this vital axiom. This offseason, they drafted wide receiver Quinton Patton at the end of the fourth round. Unlike Jenkins, Patton consistently produced in college and played well at the Senior Bowl.
About a month ago, Patton broke his left pointer finger in practice but he’s been running routes and catching passes with one hand throughout training camp. He’s a better receiver right now with one hand than Jenkins is with two, but that says more about Jenkins than Patton.
If Patton becomes a good receiver for the 49ers, he’ll be the first draft pick to pan out at that position in the Harbaugh-Baalke Era.
Until then, Baalke and Harbaugh are on the schneid.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.