Jonathan Baldwin has a chance with the 49ers to erase any doubts over his catching ability.
For the San Francisco 49ers, the otherwise dubious trade of swapping one first-round disappointment for another actually served as an upgrade.
San Francisco received Jonathan Baldwin in return—the Chiefs' own version of a draft-day swing-and-miss during the opening round. They selected Baldwin with the No. 26 overall pick in 2011.
Head coach Jim Harbaugh accepted responsibility for the unsuccessful pick and development of Jenkins thereafter, as reported by Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area. It was a classy move that helped take the derisive spotlight off the maligned second-year player.
But organizational culpability is not pertinent to the scope of this argument.
What is relevant, however, is why Baldwin is a huge positional upgrade over Jenkins.
Baldwin stands at an imposing 6'4", 230 pounds. He runs a 4.5-40—very good speed for a big man—and registered a 42" vertical at the 2011 combine. He couples said speed and leaping ability with a tenacity for making himself available over the middle. Serving as a strong downfield and red-zone threat is his greatest asset.
Jenkins, on the other hand, is essentially none of these things.
At a smallish 6'0", 192 pounds—not to mention his below-average 12 reps on the combine bench press—Jenkins’ stature and weak physical build completely negate his speed at the pro level. His sub-4.40 ability can’t yet materialize on the NFL gridiron because tough physical corners prevent him from even releasing off the line of scrimmage on the outside.
Nowhere was that more apparent than preseason Week 2 against his new team. The Chiefs' Sean Smith used his 6'3", 218-pound frame as an overwhelming advantage over Jenkins. He never once managed a clean release or a fully developed route because of his inability to out-muscle the stronger defensive back.
This is clearly something that Baldwin has little difficulty executing.
But that also doesn’t mean he comes to the 49ers free of any deficiencies.
The former Pitt standout has hauled in just 41 of the 97 passes thrown his way since entering the league two seasons ago, according to Pro Football Focus (membership required). He also has a regrettable seven drops and lowly total of 579 yards and two career touchdowns attached to his resume.
All that said, there are legitimate reasons underlying these unfortunate stats, including signs of progression moving forward.
Let’s start with the quarterbacks that Baldwin had the luxury of throwing to him.
In 2011, the likes of Matt Cassell, Kyle Orton and Tyler Palko handled the ever-important quarterbacking duties for Kansas City. The men who should otherwise be known as one-hit wonder, career backup and he-who-shall-not-be-named combined for a cringing 13-to-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 59.8 percent completion percentage.
Cassell retained his starting position one year later, with journeyman Brady Quinn backing him up. This not so dynamic duo managed all of eight touchdown passes next to 20 interceptions and an unsightly 57.5 percent completion percentage.
Baldwin may have issues with securing the football, but having this aforementioned bunch as the conduit for catching said ball was something entirely out of his control.
Furthermore, Baldwin elevated his statistical output from his rookie to his sophomore campaign.
He increased his receiving yardage from 254 to 325, and his average from 12.1 to 16.3 yards per reception. This occurred in spite of catching one fewer pass, which, in other words, shows a marked improvement in his downfield production.
(Remember, Jenkins' career highlights consist of zero catches, one drop.)
Augmenting those increases was a decrease in total drops from one season to the next. Baldwin dropped just one pass last season—down from six in 2011.
Now that he sports the red and gold, Baldwin finds himself in a much better situation.
Is Jonathan Baldwin an upgrade over A.J. Jenkins?
The 49ers will provide him with an accurate, strong-armed quarterback in Colin Kaepernick. Developing chemistry will take time, but these two are potentially a tremendous duo in the making, as both are suited for the big play.
Baldwin will also find that the coaching staff in San Francisco is one of the best in the business. Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and receivers coach John Morton are all lauded for maximizing the potential of their players, with receivers being no exception (see: Michael Crabtree).
Roman had these thoughts on Baldwin’s skills, via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News: "His size is the first thing you notice. He has really good range, leaping ability. ... A great catch radius is a really good thing."
Chalk up these encouraging words and present circumstances to a revival of sorts for the former first-rounder. Watch for Baldwin to harness his considerable skill set by season’s end with the help of this thoroughly positive change of scenery.
Yet, a fierce uphill battle awaits him. He must compete with fellow wideouts Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams, Marlon Moore and rookie Quinton Patton for playing time. Crabtree (Achilles tendon) and Mario Manningham (ACL, PCL) are currently recovering from their respective surgeries and will return later in the season as well.
But one thing's for sure: The days of A.J. Jenkins and his impossible-to-understand attitude will become a distant memory soon enough—thanks in part to Jonathan Baldwin getting a fresh start in a 49ers uniform.
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