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Baalke Discusses Day 1 of the Draft

Posted Apr 26, 2012

Before Thursday night, A.J. Jenkins was hardly a household name in the Bay Area. Well, he is now.

With the No. 30 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected the talented wide receiver from Illinois to the surprise of many. He’s a gold-helmet guy (good character), a speedster (4.31-second, 40-yard dash) and a playmaker. Now he’s the newest member of the 49ers.

To outsiders, Jenkins’ name may well have been pulled out of the blue. But to the front office personnel working in the war room at team headquarters, Jenkins was a targeted man. In fact, general manager Trent Baalke wrote Jenkins’ name on a piece of paper and stuffed it in an envelope earlier on Thursday, sure he would be San Francisco-bound by the end of the day.

“We did that this morning,” Baalke said shortly after the first round of the draft ended. “Played around a little bit, and his name was the one that we wrote down and sealed the envelope. Once again, just let the board speak.”

To Baalke and his staff, the NFL Draft isn’t merely a three-day spectacle. It’s the culmination of round-the-clock efforts from scouts, personnel executives and more. After seeing Jenkins rack up 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns last year and hosting him for a pre-draft interview, the 49ers knew they had their man.

“He was the best player on the board at the time,” Baalke said. “We had opportunities to trade back and chose not to because we had the player valued where we picked him.”

When it comes to a player’s value, Aldon Smith was something of a cautionary tale during last year’s draft. Like Jenkins, Smith was a surprise pick at No. 7 overall in 2011, but clearly showed he was worth the high selection by year’s end. Had the 49ers traded down in last year’s draft – even so much as two spots – Baalke said he doesn’t think Smith would have been available.

Thursday proved to be eventful, as there were 19 trades involving first-round picks, the most since 1970. But Baalke didn’t want to shuffle around the draft board, citing advice he learned from former mentors Dick Haley and Bill Parcells.

“If you like them at 30, what’s the difference if you take him at 30 or 33 or 34?” Baalke said. “If you like the player, take them because if you don’t take them and you trade back, you may not like the outcome.”

49ers area scout Ethan Waugh saw Jenkins perform three times during the fall, once during training camp and twice in game situations, and he relayed his reports to Baalke and his staff. Eventually, Baalke and Director of College Scouting Joel Patten also watched Jenkins in person, before the young wideout excelled in pre-draft events like the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.

“A.J. is the type that responded to every challenge along the way and those are the types of guys we are looking for,” Baalke said.

It’s one thing if a guy can run a 4.31, 40 like Jenkins. It’s another to translate that speed on to the field, wearing pads with defenders chasing you. According to Baalke, Jenkins’ ability shows up on game tape, too. Another plus: Baalke said Jenkins is capable of playing all three wide receiver positions in the 49ers complex offense.

“He’s a guy that fits our system very well, from a trait standpoint, from a skills standpoint and has all the off-the-field intangibles that we’re looking for as well,” Baalke said. “Feel he’s going to be a great fit it in the locker room, a great addition to the offense, and now it’s up to him. It’s up to him to come in here and compete.”

Indeed, Jenkins will have some heavy competition when vying for playing time during his rookie season. The 49ers added a couple of high-profile, free-agent wideouts in Mario Manningham and Randy Moss, on top of last year’s contributors like Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr. and Kyle Williams.

Jenkins said he’s looking forward to learning from the respected group of veterans, while also saying, “It's a blessing and an honor” to wear the same jersey Jerry Rice donned during his Hall of Fame career.

If anything, Jenkins’ arrival could raise the level of competition during training camp.

“Those receivers that are in that locker room aren’t going ‘OK, now which one of us is going to get cut,’” Baalke said. “That’s not the mindset around here. The mindset around here is to compete. I’m very confident that we have the right group of people and players in that locker room and they’ll accept this challenge.”

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