San Francisco 49ers: Revisiting the A.J. Jenkins-Stephen Hill Debate
Warning: I am going to be that guy pointing and saying, "See. See. There is the receiver the 49ers should have drafted in April," a lot this Sunday.
I am of course referring to Jets rookie wideout Stephen Hill, who, three games into his NFL career, has five total receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Not the most outstanding of numbers, but numbers nonetheless—as opposed to the zeros and DNPs that reside next to many rookies in the box score.
It was no secret—especially after 49er receivers combined for just one catch for three yards in an NFC Championship loss—that there were plans to upgrade the position. So Randy Moss signed during free agency, as did Mario Manningham, and the front office surely had their eyes set on a receiver with their first-round pick.
Many, myself included, viewed Hill as the perfect fit. At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he is a big, physical receiver and committed blocker—a must for any receiver in Georgia Tech's option offense. Then he dropped the collective jaws of every scout at the Scouting Combine by posting a 4.36 forty-yard dash, 39.5"-vertical leap, and running fluid routes in drills. But no way he would drop to San Francisco after that showing, right? Not this ideal deep-threat, red-zone target—we all remember how many stalled drives resulted in David Akers field goals.
Wrong. There he was, still on the board, ready to hear his name called when the 49ers went on the clock. Ready to walk up to the podium, shake hands with Mr. Goodell, and throw on a red-and-gold snapback cap.
Instead, "With the 30th pick of the 2012 NFL draft, the San Francisco 49ers select A.J. Jenkins, wide receiver, Illinois." Instead, the 49ers opted for another speedy but smallish receiver. In his senior season, Jenkins hauled in 90 receptions for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. He also contributed on special teams as a reliable return man—versatility that head coach Jim Harbaugh covets.
Jenkins had his ups and downs in camp and preseason, displaying big-play potential and inconsistent route-running.
He has yet to suit up for regular season action. And likely won't the remainder of his rookie campaign—barring any injuries. The truth is, the 49ers are loaded at the receiver position and slowly preparing Jenkins for the future. He needs to digest the playbook more and add weight to his 190-pound frame.
Meanwhile, Hill is starting and learning on the fly. He is raw, no doubt, but has already shown flashes of a star in the making. And while it may be unfair—and extremely premature—to label Hill the better pro, the sky is the limit for the young receiver.
So, why not draft the prospect with the higher ceiling?
Note: Hill has been listed as doubtful for Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Maybe my "see, see" will have to wait for another week.
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