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Crabtree injured, can Jim Harbaugh turn to AJ Jenkins?

aj jenkins

Confession:  I was kind of obsessed with AJ Jenkins leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft. Okay, fine, I’m still obsessed with AJ Jenkins. I was actually in the process of writing about him when I learned that Michael Crabtree tore his Achilles, which according to Ourlads, bumps AJ to a starting role. Heck, even before the injury I was still predicting him to see at least 50% of a starter’s workload in 2013. So, why do I love AJ Jenkins so much?

(Note: how does that ESPN article not even mention Jenkins as a possible beneficiary of the Crabtree void? What a joke.)

The College Production:

As you probably know, we take the concept of market share pretty seriously around here.  Through that paradigm, what AJ did during his final year at Illinois was one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever seen.  While some may have been shocked to see him drafted in round one, I thought he was tremendously undervalued during draft season.

Yards Touchdowns
AJ Jenkins 1276 8
Team 2392 14
Market Share 53.3% 57.1%

To eclipse 50% market share in both yards and touchdowns is unheard of. Think about it: on any given play a quarterback has five receiving options, so each player should, in theory, accumulate about 20% of market share just by being on the field. AJ Jenkins more than doubled the expectation. He dominated his team’s targets and the opponent with his production. To consider how rare that level of performance is, realize that only seven players since 2005 have posted 50-50 seasons. That means AJ Jenkins’ performance puts him in the 99.8th percentile. Consider the company he keeps (min 25 targets):

Player msYDS msTD Dominator Rating (msYDS+msTD) YR
Alejandro Villanueva 62.5% 100.0% 162.5% 2009
Demaryius Thomas 65.1% 72.7% 137.8% 2009
Dez Bryant 53.7% 80.0% 133.7% 2009
Demaryius Thomas 53.1% 75.0% 128.1% 2008
Jabari Arthur 53.1% 66.7% 119.7% 2007
Eric Decker 50.8% 62.5% 113.3% 2009
Calvin Johnson 50.6% 60.0% 110.6% 2006
A.J. Jenkins 53.3% 57.1% 110.5% 2012

You’re probably wondering “who the heck is Ali Villanueva?” He’s a 6’10’’ receiver that was basically the only receiver on the field in Army’s option offense. In fact, he, Demaryius Thomas, and Calvin Johnson all played in option offenses. When considering that Dez Bryant, Jabari Arthur (I know, I know), The Eric Decker, and AJ Jenkins joined the 50-50 club while playing for more traditional offenses, the feat is even more impressive. Overall, that’s pretty elite company for Jenkins.

The Physical Measurables

Right or wrong, AJ was dogged for his conditioning in 2012. But, if you revisit his workout performance, you’ll see that he was above the 70th percentile in everything but bench, a fairly common knock on rookie WRs. Early reports indicate that he has bulked up this offseason while spending six weeks in Atlanta training with Colin Kaepernick and Ricardo Lockette. Just taking a look at the chart below, it’s interesting that Devin Hester and Santonio Holmes are two of his “similar players.” Imagine those guys running free while Kaepernick threatens defenses with his arms and legs. Sounds like a pretty lethal combination to me.


The Opportunity

After making the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl in consecutive seasons, it’s pretty hard to argue with what Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers are doing. So, let me ask you this: do you really think they whiffed on AJ Jenkins? Are you really ready to call him a bust after one season? Or, is it more likely that Jenkins was redshirted last year, like Kaepernick in 2011, and will play a big part in the 49ers future?

Here’s what I know: 272 targets from last year’s team are currently injured (Crabtree, Manningham) or off the roster (Moss, Walker). Yes, Anquan Boldin will occupy some of those targets, but he will be 33 this season and will probably max out at 120 targets. After that, it’s a group of five guys who were drafted later than the 4th round and combine for 63 career receptions. Add this intel with the fact that Jenkins spent six weeks training with Kaepernick this offseason, and I think it’s a perfect recipe for AJ Jenkins to silence doubters in 2013.

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