When you think famous first-round wide receiver busts, a lot of names come to mind. Guys like Freddie Mitchell, Mike Williams, and Troy Williamson pop up as the most recent examples. Once-great playmakers in college that quickly found themselves hoisted on the scrap heap far too early in their careers. Whether the fatal poison came in the form of an inflated ego, substance abuse problem, lack of work ethic, or all of the above, there was never any doubt these players just didn’t cut it in the NFL.
Last season, rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins of the San Francisco 49ers, personified the character traits of a player not living up to the hype. Drafted out of Illinois in the first round of 2012, the 49ers expected Jenkins’ speed to complement sizeable No. 1 guy Michael Crabtree, beefing up a mediocre offense that hummed more so on plowing running backs and dink-and-dunk passes than with an explosive downfield attack.
Instead, Jenkins showed up for 2012 training camp out of shape, tossed his cookies while running hills and even ducked a practice session for a back massage since claiming his back was too tight. The shock of camp carried over into the season, as he couldn’t find his spot in the 49er offense, despite a decrepit Randy Moss and average slot receiver Mario Manningham being his only competition.
Of course, one could blame his lack of immediate impact in season one on the quarterback situation. QB Alex Smith’s biggest season came in 2011 when he passed for 3,144 yards, a mark he hadn’t sniffed since his sophomore campaign in 2006 when he passed for 2,800 yards. Smith was never a guy who possessed the kind of passing skills to throw for 30-plus touchdowns and 4,000 yards.
No more worries there, however, thanks to second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a guy who feasted on an opportunity with Smith briefly sidelined due to injury. Kaepernick proved a bonafide star that could chuck the ball all over the field in addition to elude defenders with his feet. Kaepernick’s presence was good enough to boost Crabtree’s stats, with his emergence allowing the fifth-year receiver to spill his yardage total over the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his career. Of course, Crabtree could likely be out for the entire 2013 season with an Achilles injury, so the possibility for someone else to get some serious fantasy love is wide open.
Enter Jenkins. At 6’0, 192 lbs, he’s a speedy, under 4.4 40 guy. His attributes just never translated into production during his rookie season. He was nonexistent despite being healthy for all 16 games. He saw just one target all season, which he dropped. He was inactive for 14 of 19 games, including the playoffs.
While this is cause for concern heading into 2013, Jenkins deserves some slack considering he was a rookie in an already established offense that had gone to an NFC championship game the year before. The 49ers likely wanted to win immediately, so they didn’t want to risk putting an inexperienced player like Jenkins out of the field too much.
Don’t expect Jenkins to immediately ramp up his game in 2013. Given his football I.Q. as of right now and his production last season, the idea that he could come on and immediately reign in 70 passes for 1,200 yards is preposterous, no matter who is throwing him the ball. He’s still a young player, and he’s got two other receivers in rookie Quinton Patton and Ricky Ricardo Lockette ready to step in if he can’t get the job done. Other receivers Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham are also battling injuries, and also don’t possess the upside of Jenkins long term.
However, the 49ers don’t appear desperate to find a replacement for Crabtree via free agency yet, so it’s safe to say they feel confident their current group of guys will step up during camp. Jenkins will have his shot and with only a rookie and former Seattle Seahawk pre-season cut to beat out, we’ll for sure know if Jenkins is a bust following when the summer ends.
While Jenkins was maybe a little ignorant when it came to knowing just how good of condition he needed to be in to make it in the NFL, at least early on, his work ethic is not something that will keep his fantasy stock from rising. He’s reportedly packed on muscle this past offseason and should be able to take hits over the middle and be a possession guy.
He’s not very high on our list as of right now, but Jenkins is a guy you should keep an eye on in camp this season. If he asserts himself and gets a starting role, he’s a No.3-boarderline No. 2 receiver in deep leagues due to the 49ers quarterback situation and the team’s overall success in recent years.