A.J. Jenkins and First-Round Rookies Sure to Struggle
Every rookie taken is a risk in the NFL, especially the first-round selections.
Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins was a surprise pick by San Francisco toward the end of the first round in April, as the 49ers had other options with better potential available.
And though the Niners are still a Super Bowl-caliber team out of the NFC West, the bust potential from missing on a top pick is never helpful. Unfortunately, Jenkins isn't the only rookie who will struggle adjusting to the pro game, as is always the case with rookies.
To that end, here is a look at which Round 1 newcomers will fail to meet expectations this upcoming 2012-13 season.
Justin Blackmon: WR, Jaguars
Rick Dole/Getty Images
An aggravated DUI arrest is not a great way to kick off one's NFL career, and Justin Blackmon has a lot of pressure to succeed immediately out of Oklahoma State.
As the No. 5 overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Blackmon is expected to be the answer for Jacksonville's passing woes. Well, despite possessing a supreme amount of talent, Blackmon has a developing quarterback in Blaine Gabbert under center and may also suit up without running back Maurice Jones-Drew, according to ESPN's John Clayton via Rotoworld.
The possibility of a Jones-Drew holdout puts significantly more pressure on the rest of the offense. As for Blackmon, he's fortunately used to playing in a pass-first offense, but the NFL is a different story.
Defenses could double-team him each week and force the other wideouts to beat single coverage. With more vulnerable pass-protection—another consequence of MJD's absence—Gabbert's development will not be sufficient enough for Blackmon to flourish.
It's simply a tough situation all around on offense in Jacksonville.
Bruce Irvin: LB, Seahawks
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Bruce Irvin was a surprise pick at No. 15 by Seattle, but his skill set does fit the Seahawks' need for a stud pass-rusher opposite of Chris Clemons.
The downside, though, is that Irvin has much developing and experience to gain as an every down defender. Seattle may have great coaching to speed up that process, but sharing the same division with solid running backs like Frank Gore and Steven Jackson, they will effectively expose Irvin's first-year deficiencies.
Seattle also faces tough RBs outside the NFC West, including DeMarco Murray and Fred Jackson, so Irvin's development will continually be tested throughout the season.
In addition, Clemons is currently dealing with contractual issues, though there are differing accounts on the situation from Eric Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune and Len Pasquarelli of the Sports Xchange. Nevertheless, without Clemons to deal with, offenses can game-plan blocking schemes easier to isolate Irvin and use his aggressive play against him.
The good news is, this first-rounder has unreal potential if properly developed. We must wait and see if Irvin proves to become an every-down defender.
Harrison Smith: Safety, Vikings
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
The Minnesota Vikings had many holes to fill, and selecting Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith at No. 29 overall in Round 1 certainly satisfied one need.
As one of the worst pass defenses last season, the Vikings could use any help they can get in the secondary. Brian Hall of FOX Sports North reported mid-June, Smith's "transition to the NFL is taking some time. Smith admits to making 'plenty' of mistakes in the early going."
The biggest reason Minnesota's rookie safety will struggle is because of the murderers' row of NFC North passing offenses. Green Bay, Detroit and Chicago all will thwart Minnesota's defense. Other than Jared Allen, the Vikings also don't have much of a pass rush, making Smith's coverage assignments all the more longer and difficult.
Possessing solid size and instincts, however, Smith will also get quickly acclimated to the Vikings defense. It's difficult to expect much from a rookie that was considered a first-round reach by many and faced with the explosive offenses on the schedule.
As a result, Harrison Smith's second year in 2013 will decipher whether Smith was the correct pick late by the organization.
A.J. Jenkins: WR, 49ers
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Much like Bruce Irvin and Harrison Smith, A.J. Jenkins was expected to get his name called in Round 2 in the draft. Instead, the 49ers took the Big Ten wideout at No. 30 overall, and it's been a rough going thus far.
“He hasn’t looked very good,” said one daily team observer of Jenkins, who was widely considered more of a second-round talent. “He displayed some flashes with a few really difficult catches, but he’s also looked really bad at times, and he seems to have had problems staying on his feet."
Yards after catch are crucial in pro football, and Jenkins won't see much action if he can't prove to get the extra yards after the catch.
With other veterans like Mario Manningham and Randy Moss—as well as Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis, on the San Francisco roster—Jenkins will be in a limited role regardless. Still, Moss is the aged veteran and won't be around long, so finding that long-term replacement was needed.
And if Jenkins doesn't pan out, it won't be much of an issue for Jim Harbaugh and the Niners with all their depth and talent. If anything, the 49ers will just have to wait another year until the 2013 NFL draft to find their future franchise receiver.
Follow John Rozum on Twitter.