Between the two of them, they haven’t played a meaningful NFL snap yet. But
Patiently, the first two 49ers draft picks from April have been biding their time and waiting for an opportunity. It’s certainly a change of pace for two players that have been starters throughout their careers, but both Jenkins and James have approached their roles with a hard-working and humble attitude.
“Obviously, I want to be on the field,” James said. “I’m a competitor, I want to go out there and play and compete. But I’m smart enough to know I still need to learn. This is the NFL, this is a complex offense, and there’s a lot of things I don’t know.”
As of Wednesday morning, neither rookie had been told whether they’ll be suited up for their first NFL action after sitting out the first 12 Weeks. In fact, James said he probably wouldn’t know until “Sunday, maybe? I’m just being honest.”
The 49ers selected Jenkins No. 30 overall at the end of the first round in April’s NFL Draft, a day before they picked James near the end of the second round. Jenkins, a speedy wideout from Illinois, and James, an even speedier running back from Oregon, have since formed a strong relationship.
As they both wait to hear their name called by the coaching staff, Jenkins and James are lucky to have each other to share the experience with.
“We’ve been talking about this for quite some time,” Jenkins said. “Me and him are roommates on the road. It’s unfortunate that it happened, but it’s crazy that both of the positions we were drafted at, it happened on the same play. It’s crazy, but it is what it is.”
Both Hunter (ankle) and Williams (knee) were injured on the same toss play in the second half against the Saints on Sunday. Looking at Jenkins’ and James’ abilities, the two rookies could pay instant dividends at St. Louis on Sunday.
Jenkins said he feels comfortable at all of the receiver positions, including in the slot, where Williams spent most of his time with the offense. Hunter, meanwhile, provided a nice change of pace for lead running back
After 12 weeks of waiting, there’s a legitimate shot both high draft picks could make their NFL debuts in the same game.
“Me and A.J., we do a lot of things together,” James added. “That’s one of my closest friends on the team, we go on the road together. Obviously, we’re not playing and we’re two top draft picks, but we cope well together. We keep each other motivated on the practice field each and every day.”
James presents an especially intriguing option for 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. With
Kaepernick turned into one of college football’s all-time great dual-threat quarterbacks while running the pistol offense in Nevada. Kaepernick stands as the lone player in NCAA Division I history to record 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in his career, as he thrived in the offense that allowed him to pass the ball, hand it off or keep it as a ball carrier.
James also excelled in a similar system at high-powered Oregon, scoring 58 touchdowns in three seasons en route to becoming one of the nation’s most electrifying players.
“Me and Kap are really close,” James said. “He did some of the things I did at Oregon, at Nevada. I think he’s an athletic quarterback, obviously when he has the ball he makes plays. If I get the opportunity to play with him, I think it would be fun. … The chemistry is there.”
Another thing benefitting James and Jenkins are the veteran players in their respective position groups. James has learned immensely from Gore,
“Those guys have been in the league for quite some time with good success,” Jenkins said. “Having those kind of vets in the room, obviously being a young guy it’s going to help me. I’m very fortunate to have those guys in the room.”
If Jenkins does get the call for his first NFL action, he will likely have a loud cheering section at the Edward Jones Dome.
“They’re on call for every week,” the Florida native Jenkins said of his family. “It doesn’t matter where we’re playing at, it could be Europe and they’d be there.”