SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Trent Baalke was so confident the San Francisco 49ers would land A.J.Jenkins that the general manager wrote down the Illinois wide receiver’s name on a card Wednesday night, stuck it in an envelope, sealed it and announced to the coaches and scouts around him:
“This is who we’re going to pick.”
He was right.
Nearly 24 hours after the prediction, the 49ers made one of the biggest surprises of the first round by taking Jenkins, who had a prolific senior season and a blazingly fast 40-yard-dash time, with the 30th overall pick.
Both Baalke and coach Jim Harbaugh said there was plenty to like about the 6-foot, 199-pound wideout. Both described him as a “gold-helmet guy,” which is 49ers’ code for a player with high character.
Harbaugh said he liked Jenkins’ smarts, his big hands – 9 ~ inches – the way he accelerates in and out of breaks and the 4.31 seconds at which the 49ers clocked him at the scouting combine in February.
Baalke said Jenkins already is an accomplished route runner. He caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards last season, and he ranked 14th nationally by averaging 98 yards a game.
They also said he was versatile enough to play all three receiver positions. Harbaugh said there was no concrete plan about how Jenkins would fit into a group that already had Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams before adding Randy Moss and Mario Manningham in free agency. The team also re-signed Ted Ginn at the position.
“Now it’s real,” Harbaugh said of competition up and down the roster. “And it’s going to get real fast.”
For the second straight year, Baalke landed a player few predicted to the 49ers. Among the most surprised was Jenkins himself.
“Right now I’m speechless,” he said during a conference call from his home in Jacksonville, Fla., during which he had to stop and compose himself several times.
Jenkins said he was returning to watch the draft from a trip to the bathroom when one of his sisters told him his phone was ringing. A cousin had pranked him earlier in the night, andJenkins thought this was another joke.
It wasn’t. It was Baalke on the other end.
“When (the phone) said ‘San Jose,’ I said, ‘Oh, my God!’” Jenkins said.
Jenkins is one of several college prospects who made a formal visit to the 49ers this month. On the trip, he bumped into quarterback Alex Smith, took a football trivia quiz from Harbaugh – one of the questions was, what’s Green Bay’s stadium called? – and met with receivers coach John Morton.
“I thought it was a perfect fit, to be honest,” Jenkins said of the post-visit sense of the 49ers. “I didn’t think the phone call would come so quick.”
Baalke said he thought there was a good chance the 49ers would land Jenkins, but he wasn’t as confident as his envelope prediction Wednesday suggests.
The team picking in front of the 49ers, the Baltimore Ravens, traded out of that spot with the Minnesota Vikings, who selected Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Baalke said the Vikings also called the 49ers. A trade would have given the 49ers Minnesota’s second-round selection – as well as other picks – which is the third overall pick on Friday. Baalke said the 49ers were not the only team circling Jenkins and decided not to take that chance.
“If we decided to trade back, there’s a good chance we could have lost him,” he said. “… He would have gone a lot sooner (on Friday) than a lot of people think.”
(c)2012 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
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