The 49ers’ pick of Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins in the first round Thursday night demonstrated conclusively what they felt their biggest need was.
And this after they’d already signed Randy Moss and Mario Manningham as free agents. Michael Crabtree had better check his ego at the door and start working hard at running his patterns or he might find himself on the practice squad.
General manager Trent Baalke said last week that there was a player the Niners were targeting that they were sure would be there. Apparently, he wasn’t kidding because none of the mock drafts I’ve looked at had Jenkins this high.
There were some who thought Stanford tight end Coby Fleener, with whom 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is certainly familiar, might be the pick if he were there. Quarterback Andrew Luck tried to boost Fleener’s chances by deliberately throwing off-target passes on his pro day, giving Fleener a chance to show off his catching ability.
Fleener was still there when the 49ers’ turn came up at pick No. 30 last night, but the Niners went for Jenkins instead.
I trust Baalke’s judgment implicitly. Last year, nobody thought Aldon Smith was worth the pick at No. 7, but you saw what Smith did. The year before, the pick of offensive tackle Anthony Davis was a head-scratcher, especially since he was the youngest player, at 20, when he started play that fall. But Davis has been solid. Clearly, Baalke knows talent.
So, I’m confident Jenkins will become a solid player, too. He certainly has the ability, and he showed well at the Indy combine. Now, it’s up to Harbaugh and his assistants to bring him up to a premier standard in the NFL.
It will certainly be pleasant for quarterback Alex Smith, who has never in his tumultuous 49ers career had the number of quality receivers he’ll have going into training camp this summer.
There is, of course, the question of who will be blocking for him. I had thought the 49ers might use that first-round pick on a guard to replace the departed Adam Snyder. They would have had to trade up to get the best one, Stanford’s David DeCastro, and they passed on that opportunity.
But there were two other possibilities. For immediate help, they could have taken Peter Konz of Wisconsin, a college center who could shift to guard easily enough. Wisconsin has a tradition of good offensive linemen who make the transition to the NFL with ease.
Amini Silatolu, a Division II offensive lineman with impressive physical skills, was an intriguing possibility, though it might have taken time to make him an NFL player. Still, Larry Allen, a Division II player at Sonoma State, became a Pro Bowl player.
But the Niners passed on both offensive linemen. Since they have only two low-round draft picks from last year as possibilities at guard, I believe they’ll look for offensive line help the next two days, and they may also sign free-agent Leonard Davis, who has worked out for them.
Those are questions for the immediate future, but Thursday night, they moved smartly to fill what had been their biggest hole.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.