Friday, April 27, 2012

With AJ Jenkins, Trent Baalke proves he has a taste for the unexpected

Last night was the 4 year anniversary for my fiancé and me, so we took to North Beach for dinner at our favorite restaurant - Franchino.  It’s a place that she and I have been to several times, so when I sat down, I grazed the menu despite already having my likely meal selection in mind.
For a brief moment, I considered doing something different.  Lasagna was my go-to dish; in fact, it’s the only thing that I ever order when I go there.  But how about something different for a change?  The clam and mussel risotto was calling my name.  It was unique, different, perhaps healthier.  It was the road less travelled.
Always a slave to the routine, I scrapped the meal with upside for the trusty pick: my lasagna.  It was delicious, of course, but it made me think – lasagna is probably not what Trent Baalke would have gone to in that situation.

Middle fingers to the experts

Since taking over general manager duties for Scot McCloughan in 2010, Trent Baalke has been anything but conventional in his approach to the draft.  Each year, the Mel Kipers of the world try to figure out what the 49ers will do with their respective draft picks and every single time Baalke leaves their heads spinning.
The 2012 NFL Draft was no different.  On the clock with the 30th pick in the draft and names like Coby Fleener, Stephen Hill, and Janoris Jenkins ripe for utterance, the 49ers decided yet again to go unconventional with AJ Jenkins, wide receiver out of the University of Illinois.
This was Baalke’s equivalent of clam and mussel risotto.  While Mel Kiper Jr. foreseeing me picking lasagna would have been an easy call, Baalke’s meal choice was nearly impossible to preconceive.  He is unpredictable yet successful in his decision making, and still people want to second guess him.  This fact casts doubt on the title of “draft experts,” but after a battery of successful drafts in hand, my blind faith in him is growing.

Mourning the loss of Fleener

I was one of that many voices crying out on Twitter for the 49ers to draft Coby Fleener.  Up until about a week ago, I had a strong belief that if he was available, Jim Harbaugh would not allow Baalke to pass on the beastly sized tight end out of Stanford.
Last night, though, as the 30th pick drew closer, my visions of three tight end sets creating havoc for opposing defenses began to fade.  It wasn’t that I thought he would get stolen like David DeCastro going to the Steelers.  I just started to realize that Bay Area Sports Guy was probably right – the pick was simply too obvious.  To my dismay, the 49ers passed, as did every other team in the first round it turns out.
The second round won’t be too far underway before he gets snagged.  The chances that the Colts pass on the Fleener air freshener to go along with their Lucky brand new car are slim.  Time to come back to reality, 49ers fans.  And don’t forget, Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker aren’t a terrible tandem either.

 So about this Jenkins guy…

Jenkins was a productive wide receiver at Illinois, a guy that many consider a “burner.”  Although he doesn’t have exceptional size (6’0”, 190 lbs), he has breakaway speed, running 4.39 40 (Jim Harbaugh said they clocked him running a 4.31).  His senior year was his most productive, racking up 90 catches and 1,278 yards en route to catching 8 TDs.
He’s probably not a guy that will step into the 49ers as an immediate starter, but he’s certainly a more proven college producer than the other wide receiver options still available at 30, like Stephen Hill.  Hill gained a lot of attention for his 4.30 40 time at the combine, but 820 yards and 5 touchdowns in 2011 pale in comparison to Jenkins’ numbers.
While Hill’s quarterback at Georgia Tech was the main playmaker in their triple option offense, Jenkins’ quarterback at Illinois, Nathan Scheelhaase, recognized AJ as his go to guy.  Scheelhaase threw for 2110 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2011; that means that only 832 of his yards passing and 5 of his touchdowns went to any other receiver on the team. 
As for the red zone, Jenkins’ size certainly won’t translate to an immediate fix for the 49ers’  deficiencies. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m giving San Francisco an F for the pick like certain "49ers beat writers."
With Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Kyle Williams and Ted Ginn, this team is sufficiently platooned at the position of wide receiver even without AJ Jenkins.  Whether he is a metaphorical fire under Michael Crabtree’s ass, or Randy Moss is the stop gap to the 49ers 2012 draft selection, none of us really know.  Jenkins was the Baalke draft crush that we all wondered about.  We’ll have to trust the process.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who cocked his head, thinking “who?” when the selection was made.  Even Damon Bruce, who spent days preparing for his 49ers Draft Special on KNBR, admittedly didn’t have a lick of paperwork on the guy that the 49ers chose. Few people probably did.  After all, I had never heard of Aldon Smith before the 7th pick of the 2011 NFL Draft – look how that turned out.  But this is becoming the norm when you’re dealing with Trent Baalke, so if you’re tuning into to the next episode of the draft tonight with the 49ers future in mind, just remember this – expect the unexpected.  

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