With the 30th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the 49ers selected wide receiver A.J. Jenkins out of the University of Illinois. This was a surprise pick last year that nobody expected and it was heavily criticized by spectators. Fast forward almost 16 months later and Jenkins is no longer on the 49ers as he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs for WR Jon Baldwin.
In response to the skeptics and critics of this draft pick, Jim Harbaugh made an unscheduled appearance to the media during the 2012 training camp in defending his player.
"A.J. Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here," Harbaugh said before the 2012 training camp. "For [the scribes, pundits] and so-called experts who have gone as far to say that he's going to be a bust should just stop. They're making themselves look more clueless."
Jenkins was viewed as a project receiver with great speed and the 49ers staff liked everything about the young receiver. From his speed and size, they projected him to be the future WR for years to come. The only weakness was his immediate strength not at the NFL level and general manager Trent Baalke said he needed to hit the weight room.
This is the first 49ers draft bust since Kentwan Balmer was selected with the 29th pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. Balmer failed to start a game for the 49ers as he initially was supposed to be a DT, but couldn't transition to a DE in the 3-4 system. After two seasons, he was traded for a late round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks in 2010.
In his first season, he had the negative historic distinction of being one of two healthy wide receivers who were first round picks to not have a reception, the other being Clyde Duncan who was the 17th overall pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1984 and he only lasted in the league for two years.
There were two other notable first-round wide receivers who had no reception in their rookie years, but they were injured and missed the season. Robert Meachem, the New Orleans Saints first-round pick of 2007 missed his rookie season after undergoing knee surgery. Yatil Green, the Dolphins first-round pick of 1997 suffered catastrophic knee injuries in training camp before each of his first two seasons. The 1999 season became his first season of playing and he caught a paltry 18 balls for 234 yards. Green's career ended with those numbers as he had 10 surgeries on his knee in total.
The 49ers had several other options with the 30th overall pick in 2012, but viewed Jenkins as a player worth drafting in that spot. Here is a list of WRs who were drafted after Jenkins including their stats for their rookie years:
Brian Quick (33rd overall, St. Louis Rams): 11 rec, 156 yds, 2 TDs
Stephen Hill (43rd overall, New York Jets): 21 rec, 252 yds, 3 TDs
Alshon Jeffery (45th overall, Chicago Bears): 24 rec, 367 yds, 3 TDs
Ryan Broyles (54th overall, Detroit Lions): 22 rec, 310 yds, 2 TDs
Rueben Randle (63rd overall, New York Giants): 19 rec, 298 yds, 3 TDs
T.Y. Hilton (92nd overall, third round pick by the Indianapolis Colts) 50 rec, 861 yds, 7 TD s
Rod Streater (undrafted, Oakland Raiders): 39 rec, 584 yds, 3 TDs
While none of these receivers have had anything eye-popping in their first years, they were all more promising than Jenkins.
This isn't an easy pill to swallow for Harbaugh, as he said in 2012 that he would be "keeping track of names and there's going to be an 'I told you so.' I foresee it happening."
There could be an 'I told you so,' but not with the 49ers. He will have to wait for Jenkins' career to unfold in Kansas City to say so.