FLORHAM PARK- This isn't exactly where A.J. Jenkins imagined he'd be four years ago. Actually, it's almost as if there's been a warp in time. Where he is now, is where he was then. Almost to the exact date.
In 2012, Jenkins was preparing to step foot on the football field for the first time as a professional athlete. Many were looking forward to seeing him there too. After all, he was the San Francisco 49ers’ first-round pick. A player with the ability to stretch the field and the latest weapon given to then quarterback Alex Smith.
But now? In 2015? He's back in rookie minicamp, labeled a first-round bust and clinging to potentially his last shot at an NFL career.
“I'm trying to find consistency,” Jenkins said. “I know I can play.”
During his four-year collegiate career at Illinois, Jenkins established himself as one of the better receiving prospects in the country. He had speed (4.39 40-yard dash), leaping ability (38.5-inch vertical) and size (6-0, 200 pounds). Not to mention, his final year in college was his most successful.
As a senior, Jenkins caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. Scouts raved about a player that was “quick off the ball,” and “got to top speed quickly.” If Jenkins was given a free release, he was near impossible for a cornerback to deal with. He ran good routes in college, controlled his body well and wasn't afraid of going over the middle. Maybe he didn't have the experience others in his class did, having only started two years, but his physical ability was simply off the charts.
Some saw Jenkins as a mid-round pick, others as someone that would hear his name called in the second or third-round. The 49ers felt differently, and selected him with the No. 30 overall pick.
“That was the guy we wanted,” Harbaugh said back in 2012 following the selection . “That was the highest player on the board when the time came to pick him.”
But Jenkins never materialized into the player San Francisco hoped he'd be. He was inactive for all but three games his rookie year and saw just one pass thrown his way, and dropped it. The ensuing offseason, just one year after his selection, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he played two years. Jenkins appeared in 28 games and caught 17 passes for 223 yards. He was released this past February. Now, he's a rookie camp tryout with the Jets.
“So far, things are going good,” Jenkins said. “We're working on that first walkthrough and I'm just trying to put everything together. We're trying to install the first couple plays we're gonna do and go from there.”
For the Jets, they're hoping to see the traits that once led the 49ers to make Jenkins their first-round pick. But for head coach Todd Bowles, he's looking as much at the mental aspect of Jenkins' game as the physical.
“You wanna see the hunger, first of all,” Bowles said. “You wanna see that he still wants to play and that he has something to prove. Then, you wanna see him make progress. He should be a little more experienced than the other guys, but you wanna see if the hunger is there.”
Jenkins says he's looking to display consistency with New York, something he failed to do with both San Francisco and Kansas City. If he's able to do that, the rest, he says, will take care of itself. While he's struggled to live up to his first-round label, it hasn't been for lack-of-ability.
“Again, I know I can play,” Jenkins said. “It's just about showing it every single play, every single day.”