Most wide receiver prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft clearly translate to one position at the pro level, either as a split-end, flanker or slot.
That’s not the case with Illinois wide receiver
“Some guys are strictly Xs (flanker),” general manager Trent Baalke said right after making Jenkins, a 6-foot, 192-pound wide receiver the team’s first-round selection. “We feel this is a multi-align guy, who can line up at all three spots.”
In addition to possessing versatility within his own position, Jenkins brings the 49ers a great deal of production.
The 2011 All-Big Ten first-teamer caught 90 passes for 1,276 receiving yards with eight touchdowns last season for the Fighting Illini. For his four-year career, Jenkins started 25 games, catching 167 passes for 2,432 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns.
“Can’t wait to get to work with the @49ers,” Jenkins tweeted from his @Ajjenkins8 account. “Thanks to everyone for the love and to my #fightiningillini family.”
Speed, hand size, route-running and a competitive nature were just some of the many factors in why the 49ers selected Jenkins at the end of a busy first round.
“It went the way we anticipated,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said of the opening round which saw 19 trades take place, the most in NFL Draft history since 1970.
The 49ers were quite confident they’d have Jenkins at the end of the first round, which also took place in just 3 hours and 20 minutes. Baalke even put the young receiver’s name in an envelope earlier in the day, sealed and everything.
“You line up the board, you go through the 365-day process to get to this day and you let the board speak,” Baalke said of his decision to draft Jenkins.
Once 29 other choices were made, the 49ers draft board spoke loudly about Jenkins, a Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist who was named Academic All-Big Ten for a third consecutive season in 2011.
“He’s wired right,” Harbaugh went on to say.
The 49ers coach administered his own pre-draft test which Jenkins passed in flying colors. The exam is supposed to find out a player’s understanding of rules, schemes and even sports history.
Jenkins, for his part, impressed the coaches with his ability in all three phases of the test.
“He’s a bright guy, a bright football guy,” Harbaugh said of the newest 49ers wideout. “Someone we’re really pleased to have.”
Beyond smarts, Jenkins’ speed is one of his most impressive characteristics. San Francisco had him clocked at 4.31 seconds in his 40-yard dash at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine. But more importantly, Jenkins’ speed translated on game tape.
Baalke pointed out big performances against Penn State in 2010 and the time Jenkins caught 268 receiving yards in a single game against Northwestern in 2011, most in Illinois school history.
Jenkins didn’t necessarily expect to be a first-round selection, but did visit with the 49ers as one of the team’s 30 pre-draft visitors. At that point, Jenkins came away with a great impression of the franchise.
“Honestly I didn’t know where I’d end up,” he said in a conference call with local reporters. “It’s a blessing to be with a great organization.”
Jenkins said he felt a “vibe” with the 49ers.
“We talked about football and had a good time. Me and (wide receivers) coach (John) Morton had a great conversation about life and football, and me and coach (Jim) Harbaugh did,” Jenkins recalled. “I thought it was a perfect fit to be honest. I just didn't know the phone call was going to come so soon. I'm just so honored and blessed to be in this position."
Jenkins led the Big Ten Conference in receptions per game (6.9), which ranked 16th nationally. He also averaged 48.6 yards per touchdown catch in 2011, with five of those scores going for 50 yards or longer.
“Speed, very fluid in his routes, someone who can get separation,” Harbaugh said of his new receiver. “Strong, tough guy.”
The 49ers like how Jenkins will fit into the team’s growing perimeter depth which now has
“Very excited about the great players for A.J. to be mentored by, learn from and also to compete with,” Harbaugh said.
The 49ers characterized Jenkins with a gold helmet sticker next to his draft card. The designation meant Jenkins had all the qualities the team was looking for.
“Talent, character, smarts,” Harbaugh explained.
Personality traits were one thing, but Jenkins’ consistent production made him stand out compared to other perimeter prospects. It was evident to the 49ers when they saw him repeatedly in the months leading up to the draft.
Tom Gamble, the 49ers Director of Player Personnel, saw Jenkins in person catch a 60-yard game-winning touchdown in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against UCLA.
The team also was impressed by Jenkins performances in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl.
“We’re glad we were able to get someone as explosive and talented,” Harbaugh said.
Now, the 49ers will see how competitive their new receiver can be amongst an already talented receiving core.
“Anyone who comes in as a rookie will understand it gets real fast, especially on our football team,” Harbaugh concluded.
Jenkins, in his mind, is certainly up for the challenge of competing against NFL talent.
“This is going to be a tremendous opportunity for me and my family to come out to California and play ball for a great organization, a great coaching staff. I'm ready to get out there to start working today if I can. I'm happy.”
Jenkins always looked up to 49ers Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, now he hopes to follow Rice’s successful path in San Francisco.
“It's a blessing and an honor to be playing in the same uniform as that man. That is crazy.”