A.J. Jenkins—one man who cannot slip and fall.
Even from a surface level vantage point, it’s readily apparent that the San Francisco 49ers 2013 draft class is abundantly more talented than its 2012 counterpart.
It legitimately contained starting-caliber prospects through the first four rounds. Last year’s class simply did not.
Bashing one 49ers prospect group while elevating another, however, is an irrelevant exercise when discussing the here and now.
The pertinent idea is how their most recent draftees will exert pressure on the ones who arrived a mere 12 months ago. The NFL is a brutal bottom-line business where one year’s lauded class can turn into relative trash in the face of superior talent.
We’re not saying that San Francisco’s 2012 prospects are worthless by any means—they certainly provide depth at key positions.
It’s merely a case of these latest NFL entries being just that good. A conflict-free environment really wouldn’t be reasonable.
With that in mind, here are five 49ers from the last year’s draft who will face the most pressure from this latest 2013 class.
Note: We include undrafted free agents from 2012 in this list.
Garrett Celek earned his spot as the No. 3 tight end—but can he retain it?
The more the merrier at the tight end position, no?
It should come as no shock to anyone who has watched the 49ers the past two years that head coach Jim Harbaugh is quite fond of multiple tight end sets.
Last season featured Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and low and behold, Garrett Celek in some combination or another.
Celek logged 112 offensive snaps as the No. 3 tight end. He played 34 snaps as a receiving target, 69 as a run-blocker and nine in pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.
Those varied responsibilities showed some versatility on the part of Celek.
That said, Harbaugh wants top-notch talent at one of his most vital positions.
San Francisco selected Vance McDonald out of Rice all the way up in Round 2 (No. 55 overall) in this year’s draft. McDonald was one of the higher-rated tight ends emerging from the college ranks.
And the 49ers moved up numerous spots to get him, no less.
Furthermore, Cameron Morrah also signed with the Red and Gold over the offseason. The four-year veteran will bring even more competition to this positional battle.
Don’t count out a healthy Demarcus Dobbs as well.
Celek, then, must overcome his undrafted free-agent status to secure his spot with the team.
He made some positive strides last year as both a pass-catcher and blocker. But his value could have easily been diminished with these recent additions and returning players.
The fight for backup tight end supremacy will certainly be an interesting dynamic throughout training camp.
Imagining what can be for 2013.
The 49ers landed Darius Fleming in the fifth round (No. 165 overall) of the 2012 NFL draft.
They envisioned him as a rotational outside linebacker after Fleming racked up 32 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and nine pass breakups during his four years at Notre Dame.
He would fill a complementary role in the mold of veteran Parys Haralson, another former fifth-round pick.
Regrettably, Fleming missed the very first practice of the year last May (h/t Rotoworld). He was lost for the season before it ever began.
San Francisco’s coaching staff never had the opportunity see his skills on a NFL gridiron.
Worse yet, general manager Trent Baalke drafted Corey Lemonier No. 88 overall back in April. The former Auburn Tiger is an extremely gifted rush linebacker and will occupy the third slot on the OLB depth chart.
Where does that leave Fleming?
Fortunately enough, Haralson also missed the entire 2012 season with a torn triceps. Fleming will receive a clean opportunity to compete with Haralson for the primary backup position at left outside linebacker, even though he’s an established producer at the pro level.
In any case, Fleming will feel ample pressure during his first real year on the job.
Cam Johnson must be in the ready position for whatever position comes available.
Welcome to the world of pressure-packed outside linebacker battles.
Cam Johnson hitched a ride to San Francisco via the No. 237th overall pick. A four-year resume with 32.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and three forced fumbles as a versatile defensive end/outside linebacker at Virginia helped pay for the trip.
Johnson, though, must harness that adaptable nature if he hopes to remain wearing the Red and Gold.
The 49ers used the 6’3’’, 268-pounder sparingly last season. He appeared in the final two games, logging 11 defensive snaps without registering anything on the stat sheet, according to Pro Football Focus.
That limited playing time might decrease even more, knowing the current state of the depth chart.
Johnson sits behind Ahmad Brooks, Parys Haralson and Darius Fleming on the left side. Aldon Smith and Corey Lemonier outrank him on the right. All but Haralson have multi-year deals.
About the only outside backer Johnson has a leg up on right now is Nick Moody.
Point being, Johnson must play his heart out during offseason camps and the preseason to ensure a roster spot.
His expiring contract this year makes him all the more expendable.
Jerod-Eddie has much to frown about in 2013.
Tony Jerod-Eddie signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in early May of 2012.
San Francisco inked him to the practice squad following training camp and later placed him on the active roster in late December.
The 6’5’’, 301-pound defensive tackle made his lone appearance in the final game of the regular season. He saw action on 10 snaps (nine as a pass-rusher, one defending the run) against the Arizona Cardinals but did not register any statistics in the box score, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Making an NFL roster after going undrafted brings inherent pressure.
The player’s team clearly didn’t identify considerable enough talent to invest an actual draft pick. And said team will likely bring in additional competition the following year.
Welcome to Jerod-Eddie’s situation in a nutshell.
The 49ers signed former first-round pick Glenn Dorsey during free agency and selected Cornellius Carradine in the second round. “Tank” is a premier D-tackle and will serve as the immediate backup to Justin Smith and as an additional pass-rusher on certain downs.
Demarcus Dobbs also returns following an injury to his PCL and MCL last December. The three-way player will form part of the rotation on the defensive line.
Ray McDonald, of course, is locked in as the starter at left end.
Long story short, right defensive end is set, and the left side features McDonald, Dorsey and most likely Will Tukuafu as the first three players on the depth chart.
Jerod-Eddie faces an arduous journey to say the least.
No. 17 as the lone wolf—Jenkins was simply out of position outside of the practice field.
What do you call first-round wide receivers who don’t register a single catch during their opening year in the league?
Well, we certainly won’t go that far for the time being.
The 49ers tabbed A.J. Jenkins with their most coveted draft slot at No. 30 overall.
Jenkins earned that lofty regard with his notable speed, route-running prowess, sure handedness, high football IQ and overall gold-star character.
Amassing 1,276 yards, eight touchdowns and leading the Big Ten with 90 receptions during his senior year didn’t hurt either.
But those were the glory days of a far distant past for Mr. Jenkins.
The slim 6’0’’, 192-pound wideout essentially recorded zero playing time in 2012.
Not doing so because of a fully stacked and healthy wide receiver depth chart would be one thing.
Unfortunately, both Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham sustained season-ending injuries last year. An active role was ripe for the taking, but Jenkins couldn’t take advantage.
Now Jenkins finds himself in a similar yet entirely more precarious situation.
Manningham could miss the start of the season due to a grueling recovery from his torn ACL and PCL in Week 16 (via Rotoworld). Williams, for his part, is coming off a torn ACL of his own, despite being medically cleared for training camp, according to Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area.
Let’s not also forget the addition of fourth-rounder Quinton Patton. The man has already been seriously chomping at the bit for playing time (h/t Pro Football Talk).
In simple terms, Jenkins must make an impact. He must be ready to take on the reigns as the No. 2 guy opposite newcomer Anquan Boldin if the need arises.
It’s imperative that he shakes off his endurance issues and difficulty mastering the playbook from that regrettable rookie campaign—especially if he’s to have any longevity with this team.
If not, the 49ers could be in for a rude awakening. And Jenkins’ NFL future could very well hang in the balance.
Numerous “ifs” and hypotheticals notwithstanding, these are serious implications for one A.J. Jenkins.
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