A.J. Jenkins didn’t hold out. He was never listed on the injury report. He started out the season behind five receivers on the depth chart, but by season’s end that list had shrunken to three — and one of the three was Ted Ginn. With all those things in his favor, Jenkins was only targeted once and caught no passes. As a result, Jenkins suffered one of the worst rookie seasons of any first round wide receiver. Ever.
Just how bad?
Over the last 30 years, 104 wide receivers have been drafted in the first round. Here’s a breakdown of how how they did in their rookie season, based on number of receptions:
- 90+: 1 (Best* WR: Terry Glenn – 90)
- 80-89: 1 (Best WR: Michael Clayton – 80)
- 70-79: 1 (Best WR: Dwayne Bowe – 70)
- 60-69: 9 (Best WR: Randy Moss – 69)
- 50-59: 13 (Best WR: Larry Fitzgerald – 58)
- 40-49: 24 (Best WR: Jerry Rice – 49**)
- 30-39: 15 (Best WR: Michael Irvin – 32)
- 20-29: 18 (Best WR: Reggie Wayne – 27)
- 10-19: 7 (Best WR: Irving Fryar – 11)
- 1-9: 11 (Best WR: Santana Moss – 2)
- 0: 4 (Best WR: well, it’s a long story…)
* In the case of Glenn, Clayton and Bowe, “Best WR” means “Only WR.”
** Calvin Johnson had 48 receptions in his rookie season. However, considering the distraction questioning Rice’s status as the greatest can cause, let’s just leave this alone for now.
Notes on the rookie WRs who were shut out:
— Robert Meachem missed his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery. In his second year, he caught 12 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns with the New Orleans Saints. He has had a fairly disappointing career considering his draft status (27th overall in 2007), with 155 receptions, 2,476 yards and 25 TD in his career.
— Yatil Green suffered catastrophic knee injuries in training camp before each of his first two seasons after the Dolphins took him in the first round in 1997. In 1999 (his first season of action), Green caught 18 balls for 234 yards. Green ended his career with those numbers and 10 surgeries on his right knee.
— Over the last 30 years, only two healthy first round WRs went their entire rookie seasons without catching a pass: Jenkins and Clyde Duncan, who was taken 17th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984. Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports once called Duncan the worst No. 17 pick of all time:
First, he started his career with what was considered at the time a nasty holdout. He eventually signed and saw little playing time, playing only eight games. He was used primarily as a kick returner the following year, but had fumbling problems. The NFL was done with him after only two years. His career receiving stats: four catches for 39 yards and one touchdown.
So, even Duncan had the holdout going against him (rookies rarely held out 30 years ago, and ones who did usually paid dearly in terms of reputation and playing time). Jenkins clearly is not in good company, and he may stand alone when it comes to first round WRs over the past three decades.
How about the other receivers taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft?
Justin Blackmon started his NFL career with a DUI where his BAC tested at 0.24. Still, the top WR in the draft (drafted fifth overall) caught 64 passes for 865 yards and five touchdowns. Michael Floyd (No. 13 overall) had 45 receptions, 562 yards and 2 TD for the Cardinals, and Kendall Wright (No. 20) finished his rookie year with 64 catches, 626 yards and 2 TD with the Titans.
Ease off, man! No. 30 overall is almost like a high second round pick…
Alright, let’s look at the receivers taken in the second round.
- Brian Quick (33): 11 rec, 156 yd, 2 TD
- Stephen Hill (43): 21 rec, 252 yd, 3 TD
- Alshon Jeffery (45): 24 rec, 367 yd, 3 TD
- Ryan Broyles (54): 22 rec, 310 yd, 2 TD
- Rueben Randle (63): 19 rec, 298 yd, 3 TD
No stars here, but it stands to reason that San Francisco could’ve used a guy with the ability to catch 11-24 passes for 150-350 yards and a couple touchdowns. And to really wallow in the mire, the 49ers probably don’t want to hear about Josh Gordon (taken in the second round of the supplemental draft, caught 50 passes for 805 yards and five TD for the Browns), T.Y. Hilton (taken 92nd overall by the Colts, finished with 50 catches, 861 yards and seven TD) or even Rod Streater (undrafted, caught 39 passes for 584 yards and three scores for the Raiders).
Looking at the bright side
While Jenkins’ rookie season can be deemed as nothing short of a total failure for both the individual and the team that drafted him, it’s probably premature to call him the next Rashaun Woods (7 rec, 160 yd, 1 TD in his rookie year after the 49ers took him at No. 31 in 2004 … those would end up being his final career numbers). Since optimism is running thin around these parts after Sunday’s game, here are a few things the 49ers and their fans can cling to.
— Jenkins is healthy.
— There aren’t any rumors of off-field issues or chemistry concerns with teammates.
— The 49ers came within a play or two of winning the Super Bowl without him.
— Four receivers who caught fewer than 10 passes in their rookie seasons finished with at least 500 receptions, 6,000 yards and 35 touchdowns in their careers (Haywood Jeffires, Johnnie Morton, Ike Hilliard and Santana Moss).
— Perhaps the best note of all comes courtesy of Matt Barrows:
When Jenkins was drafted in April, general manager Trent Baalke said he loved the receiver’s big, soft hands and the speed with which he got in and out of breaks. One area that needed work, Baalke said, was strength, and Jenkins said he would dedicate himself to the weight room this offseason.
He said he’s going home to Jacksonville, Fla., for a couple of days, then returning to Santa Clara to work with strength coach Mark Uyeyama. He also said he would spend time in Atlanta, where Kaepernick trained before the draft in 2011, and continue working on their chemistry.
“Obviously, they made me a first-round choice for that purpose,” he said. “I’m going to be accountable this offseason and make myself the kind of player that they want me to be.”
Because we really have no choice, we might as well give Jenkins and the 49ers a mulligan on Year One … for now. But if he doesn’t follow through on those promises in the last paragraph, the No. 30 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft will be remembered as one of the worst draft choices in franchise history.