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49ers focus on play-makers in the draft

The Sports Xchange
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The 49ers went into the draft wanting to increase their big-play ability and that's exactly what they did with their first two picks. Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins possesses 4.31 speed according to the hand time 49ers scouts had for him at the college scouting combine. He was also enormously productive.

Second-round pick LaMichael James is another dangerously fast, highly-productive player who amassed three straight seasons of over 1,500 yards rushing at Oregon. Both these players are slight, particularly James, who's only 5-8, 194 pounds, but the 49ers believe his stature could be effective behind their increasingly big offensive line.

The knock on each of these players is strength. Jenkins, because of off-season injuries, has been unable to spend consistent time in the weight room and will need to get stronger. At times, he got stymied at the line of scrimmage because of that. James had injury issues at Oregon, including a dislocated elbow last season. Another problem with James is his lack of pass receiving; he never caught more than 18 passes in any one season and is not a natural pass catcher.

The team spent the rest of the draft partially trading back to increase their picks in the sixth round and their choices for next season. With some dealing that would have made the late Bill Walsh proud, they turned their third pick into five picks. They netted two six-rounders this year, and a third-, fifth- and sixth-round choice in 2013 to go along with an extra seventh-rounder for the Taylor Mays trade to Cincinnati that they made last summer.

In the back end of the draft, they selected a play-making defensive back (Trenton Robinson) who could be their fourth safety and took two players (Joe Looney and Jason Slowey) that could help on the interior of their offensive line.

BEST PICK

Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins: Their best pick may be their first. While the team is stacked with receivers, Jenkins is the only one, other than former first-round choice Michael Crabtree, who could be a future No. 1 receiver. So far, Crabtree has been a disappointment as the receiving bell cow and his disappearance in the playoffs did not help him. Jenkins appears to be what Crabtree is not and that's a gym rat who will make time to put in extra work with quarterback Alex Smith.

COULD SURPRISE

Guard Joe Looney: he could end up as a starter. He will be thrown into the mix for right guard along with Daniel Kilgore, Mike Person and Alex Boone.

A closer look at the 49ers' picks:

Round 1/30 -- A.J. Jenkins, WR, 6-0, 190, Illinois

Jenkins caught 90 passes last year, nearly half of starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's completions.

Round 2/61 -- LaMichael James, RB, 5-8, 194, Oregon

Slippery undersized back will also be trained to return kicks.

Round 4/117 -- Joe Looney, C/G, 6-3, 318, Wake Forest

Big nasty, interior player is just what they were looking for.

Round 5/165 -- Darius Fleming OLB, 6-2, 245 Notre Dame

Will start out on special teams and could become a third-down pass rusher.

Round 6/180 -- Trenton Robinson S, 5-10, 195 Michigan State

Will likely become the team's fourth safety.

Round 6/199 -- Jason Slowey, C, 6-3, 303, Western Oregon

He's the only true center on the team other than starter Jonathan Goodwin.

Round 7/237 -- Cam Johnson, DE, 6-3, 268, Virginia

With the lack of defensive line depth, Johnson has a shot at making the team.

--The 49ers sprung another surprise with the drafting of Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. Many draft experts had Jenkins going in the second round at best and others had him lingering to the third or fourth round. The 49ers made Jenkins, whose stock was on the rise, the draft's 30th overall pick, something that seemed to stun even Jenkins.

"Wow," a breathless and abundantly excited Jenkins said when he was placed on a conference call with Bay Area media. "Honestly, I didn't know where I was going to go at. I'm speechless right now."

Jenkins was in the bathroom when his cell phone rang. He figured it was his cousin pulling a prank, but then he saw the area code and knew it was from California. When he answered, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke was on the other line and coach Jim Harbaugh followed.

The phone call was such a blur for Jenkins, he didn't know who he talked with. Jenkins said he visited several teams, but the one he paid to the 49ers was the best.

"We talked about football," Jenkins said. "It was great. I had a great relationship with (receivers) coach (John) Morton."

Jenkins also had lunch at the 49ers complex with Harbaugh and then went to Harbaugh's office to take his football quiz. Every visiting prospect gets grilled by Harbaugh and the questions range from football rules to football history and there are also questions about other sports.

Jenkins knew enough about the 49ers to know Jerry Rice once played for them. "(To be) wearing the same uniform as Jerry Rice, that's crazy," he said.

Harbaugh was impressed with Jenkins' overall knowledge.

"He did well," Harbaugh noted. "Smart guy."

But what Harbaugh and Baalke liked most was Jenkins' ability. He led the Illini in receiving the last two years. In 2011, he caught 90 passes for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns. Harbaugh repeatedly said he liked his hands size at nine and a half inches, and both Harbaugh and Baalke mentioned his position versatility. They both believe that in time Jenkins can learn the slot, flanker and wide receiver positions.

They also like his speed. They said his draft card showed that he ran a 4.31 and Baalke said he plays fast.

However, for the second straight year, the 49ers picked a player that elicited a gasp in the press room. Last year's top pick, pass-rusher Aldon Smith, wasn't projected to go until the second half the draft. The 49ers chose him with the seventh overall pick. Jenkins wasn't on the first-round radar for most if not all mock drafts.

The 49ers even fielded calls to move back in the draft, but Baalke refused. "If we decided to trade back there was a good chance we would have lost him," he said. "If you like a player - take him."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.

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