Where he fits in: A.J. Jenkins

While being introduced at 49ers headquarters on Friday, A.J. Jenkins said, "I'm just trying to fit in where I can get in." So where, exactly, will that be this season for a San Francisco team that has overloaded itself with wide receivers during the offseason in an attempt to upgrade what last year was one of the weakest positions on the team?

The 49ers didn't make Jenkins a surprise first-round selection on Thursday evening without the intention of getting him on the field in 2012 to add explosiveness and production to a wide receiver corps that was decidedly underwhelming in both categories during the team's breakthrough season last year.

But Jenkins' place on the field and in San Francisco's pecking order at the position isn't so clear-cut for a first-rounder after the Niners added veteran newcomers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to the roster during free agency, then re-signed speedy Ted Ginn, a guy who like Jenkins is known for his ability to stretch the field vertically.

Moss has been known to do that sort of thing over his distinguished career, too, and Manningham is a guy who can get up and down the field also. So, while Jenkins was the 30th player selected in the 2012 draft in part because of his ability to make the 49ers faster on the catching end of their passing game, he does not enter the NFL with a defined role, contrary to many players selected in the first round.

But that's also what the 49ers like about Jenkins. He doesn't need a defined role, because he has the potential to play many roles.

"From a personnel standpoint, you look at a player and you look at where he can align," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said." Some guys are strictly X's, some guys can sit in the slot, some guys are strictly Z's. We feel that this is a multi-aligned guy, a guy that can line up at any of those three spots and have success in our system. It creates a lot of versatility within the position group."

With Moss and Michael Crabtree the projected starters right now, and Manningham the likely third receiver and slot guy in three-receiver sets, that would give Jenkins an opportunity – if he is indeed as versatile as the 49ers believe – to work in and contribute at all three receiver positions and find a niche in the regular rotation.

He'll battle Ginn and holdover Kyle Williams for playing time, but you've got to believe the 49ers are planning to push Jenkins ahead of those two in their overview plans at wide receiver. They'd probably like to see if he can challenge Manningham for a regular role in the rotation and be ready if things don't work out in the mercurial but enigmatic Moss's return to the NFL at age 35.

"Going into an organization with Randy Moss and Crabtree and Mario Manningham, I'm going to learn a lot about it from the veterans," Jenkins said. "I'm going to be around some great athletes and great players and I'm trying to compete. But me coming into it as a rookie, I think I can do great for going downfield. I play the slot, outside, I can do the option runs. I can do it all, but then with that kind of receiving corps, with those types of guys and Ted Ginn and everything, I'm going to learn stuff."

But there are some things that just can't be taught. Jenkins was drafted not only for what he can do but also what he has. And that's a lot of natural talent and physical ability.

"Strong, tough player," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He's got a lot of ability. He's got big hands. Very fluid in his routes. Very good route runner. Someone who can get separation the way he runs routes. I love the big hands. I love the strong, tough guy."

Jenkins was showing off the big hands when he gripped a football and answered some questions while standing on the practice field he'll be working on in a few months at the team facility. Those hands should help him fit in at the NFL level even more quickly.

"In high school, they called me ‘E.T.' because I had big hands and long fingers," Jenkins said. "So I got picked on a lot because of my hands. But they came for good use at something."

They were put to good use while pulling in 90 receptions last year and 146 catches over the past two seasons at the University of Illinois, where Jenkins shined in a pro style offense that could help him adapt quickly to the NFL game.

When asked if Jenkins was a guy who could step right in and run San Francisco's offense, Harbaugh replied, "Definitely will have the license to do that and he has the ability to do that. He'll compete for playing time to find his role. We probably would start him out at one position and teach him that. Then we'll transition him. He's a very smart guy, very bright guy. I don't think it will be a problem for him to pick up and learn multiple positions."

Which means this surprise first-rounder could fit in with the 49ers much sooner than most might think.


Niners Digest Top Stories