Harbaugh defended Jenkins a year ago; Baldwin offers upside for 49ers

Can A.J. Jenkins find his form in Kansas City? Can Jonathan Baldwin be like Julio Jones in San Francisco? (USATSI)
The Chiefs and 49ers swapped disappointing former first-round wide receivers Monday, with Kansas City sending Jonathan Baldwin to San Francisco in exchange for A.J. Jenkins. In terms of on-field production, there isn't much to report because both players have been huge disappointments. (Though, to be fair, Baldwin has done something, averaging 20 receptions, 290 receiving yards and a touchdown in two seasons; Jenkins is sitting on goose eggs up and down the stat sheet, appearing in just three games as a rookie in 2012.)

But only 13 months ago, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh was defending Jenkins, some three months after the team drafted him 30th overall.

"Jenkins was an outstanding football player when he got here," Harbaugh said in July 2012. "His progress has been very, very good, and exceeded expectations. For those -- the scribes, pundits, so-called experts -- who have gone so far as to say that he's going to be a bust, should just stop. I recommend that because they're making themselves look more clueless than they already did.

"I'll go on record: A.J. is going to be an outstanding football player," Harbaugh continued. "So far in camp and what he's done in the offseason has led us to believe nothing but he'll be an outstanding football player in the National Football League."

So that happened. 

And, hey, Jenkins could still avoid being a bust, he'll just have to do it in Kansas City where he'll be reunited with quarterback Alex Smith.

That tweet from John Breech, one of our Eye on Football compadres, no doubt makes Harbaugh very sad. Silver lining: Jenkins is no longer his problem. But Baldwin is. And it took Chiefs coach Andy Reid seven months to figure out that things weren't working out in Kansas City.

“We gave him the opportunity this week and you have to catch the football,” Reid said via ESPN.com. “That’s how it works, and he knows that and I know that. When we give you an opportunity, you have to make sure you take advantage of the opportunity. … He needs to keep playing, and [when] given the opportunity, he needs to take advantage of it.”

Baldwin also seems to have more potential than Jenkins. And with Michael Crabtree expected to miss most of the season, a young, big, physical wide receiver makes a lot of sense. The problem, of course, is getting Baldwin to keep his focus from one play to the next for the next five months.

And while the NFL scrap heap is littered with players who had tons of the aforementioned potential, getting a pre-draft nod of approval from Bill Belichick never hurts, even if indirectly. In the 2011 book "War Room," author Michael Holley describes how Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff consulted Belichick about his plan to trade up to the No. 6 pick in the first round of the '11 NFL Draft to get wide receiver Julio Jones.

"Thomas, I'm just telling you as a friend. I wouldn't do it," Belichick said, according to Holley, adding that Baldwin was "just as good if not better" than Jones. History says otherwise -- Jones is one of the NFL's elite young pass catchers -- but that doesn't mean Baldwin can't still prove Belichick right.

Two other things in Baldwin's favor:

1) It doesn't hurt that he'll now be catching passes from Colin Kaepernick after being subjected to Matt Cassel for two seasons, and

2) Crabtree's productivity skyrocketed once Kaepernick became the starter; in his first three seasons, he never had more than 72 receptions, 874 passing yards or 6 TDs. In 2012, Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and 9 TDs.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

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