Last season, the San Francisco 49ers were a few fumbles away from going to the Super Bowl. After the initial disappointment (and death threats sent to Kyle Williams) wore off, an objective assessment was concluded about the team: the offense was subpar for an elite team and lack of depth at wide receiver was startling.
Lo and behold, the 49ers management has had their most aggressive offseason in recent years. Keeping their top defense intact, they focused on picking up sorely needed weapons for Alex Smith. Randy Moss and Mario Manningham were signed within weeks of each other. Running back Brandon Jacobs (Manningham’s NY Giants teammate) followed shortly. And in the draft, they picked up University of Illinois wide receiver AJ Jenkins and Oregon running back LaMichael James.
For those of you keeping track, the 49ers went from having Michael Crabtree, Brett Swain, and Kyle Williams to now having Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Crabtree, Jenkins, and Ted Ginn (who was injured late last season and therefore couldn’t handle the kick off returns in the NFC Championship game). Keep in mind that Swain and Williams are still on the roster.
So the 49ers weakest link last season now goes about 10 deep with (potential) quality all around. For Jenkins, this situation can be taken in two ways:
A) I somehow slipped all the way to the 30th pick and am now with a Super Bowl contender! Sweet! Or,
B) Damn, look at all this talent! How am I ever gonna make the cut?
But if his highlight reelsand interviews are any indication of his personality, he’s definitely not thinking of Option B. While the
6’ Jenkins with a 4.39 40 yard dash might not necessarily draw double coverage and shut down his half of the field, he will most definitely be a factor in which the defense will account for. And with all the new threats the 49ers have, opposing defenses might be spreading themselves a little thin.
A possession receiver with a penchant for making the “splitting the defense” gesture (which teammate Randy Moss was famous for during his tenure with the New England Patriots), San Francisco will need just that from him this season.
“I’m just going to be a great teammate,” said Jenkins at the NFL Rookie Premiere in Los Angeles. “I’m just going to do what I have to do
to help the team win.”
The team-first mentality will be essential for Jenkins in San Francisco. Many weapons on offense spells disaster for the opposing defense, but if the coaches aren’t careful, it could do the same for its own team. When players don’t get touches, egos get involved and drama ensues. We’ve all seen it happen before.
But San Francisco has something different. It has basically assembled a collection of misfits who are now willing to put their egos aside for the sake of winning a championship. But don’t get it wrong: Jenkins will have to prove to Jim Harbaugh that he deserves a spot on the roster. It won’t be a cake walk, and Jenkins knows it.
“[There’s] a lot more competition out there,” he said, following his experience at the rookie minicamp. “The game is a lot faster than college, and the playbook has gotten a lot more complex.”
The 49ers hope Jenkins’ impact will be similar to linebacker Aldon Smith, a ROY candidate last season. If he can match or come close to what Smith did, but on the offensive end, combine that with the new factors they have and the 49ers’ season might end a little better than last year.
Follow Giovanni Galindo on Twitter: @giogalindo