Welcome back to the second edition of “Put Up or Shut Up”, the weekly post where I discuss some players who need to prove this season that they are worthy of a contract with the Kansas City Chiefs for this year and the future. Last week, I covered Defensive End Allen Bailey. This week’s subject: Alfred Alonzo Jenkins.
A 6 foot, 200 pound wide receiver, A.J. Jenkins found success later in his college career at Illinois. After catching 21 balls for 410 yards in his Freshman and Sophomore years, he exploded onto the scene with 146 receptions for 2,022 yards in his final two years, despite inconsistent play at the quarterback position. He had an explosive combine, and looked like a player that could contribute in the NFL, despite his smaller frame. He was subsequently drafted 30th overall by the San Fransisco 49ers, who at the time were flush with Wide Receivers: Randy Moss, Michael Crabtree, Ted Ginn Jr., and Chad Hall (yes, THAT Chad Hall). He struggled to find the field, playing 37 offensive snaps, being targeted once, and dropping that pass. Things were NOT off to a good start, with him not factoring in at all to the San Fransisco run to the Super Bowl, where they lost to Baltimore.
The writing was on the wall for A.J., and he needed to show he deserved a spot on the roster with an awful rookie season under his belt. The 49ers traded for Wide Receiver Anquan Boldin, and it became apparent he wasn’t winning the starting job opposite Crabtree. On August 19th, 2013, the Niners shipped Jenkins to Kansas City in exchange for Jon Baldwin in probably the least exciting trade in recent NFL history.
The change of scenery didn’t solve A.J.’s issues. He got stuck behind Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster on the depth chart, and even with the struggles of KC’s wide receiver corps, he still couldn’t really find the field. He caught his first pass in September against the Eagles, a 6 yard out 511 days after he was a first round draft pick. He finished the season with 8 catches for 130 yards, with about half of the yards and catches coming in a Week 17 matchup against San Diego in which the Chiefs backups featured.
The 2014 offseason started well for Jenkins, with McCluster leaving and the Chiefs adding young WR’s, a Canadian Football WR, and a couple UDFA rookie WR’s. The slot receiver position looked to be a battle between Jenkins and Junior Hemingway going into camp, and maybe a chance for A.J. to finally get some serious time on the field. Unfortunately, things did not continue to go quite as well. Hemingway won the slot receiver job early in camp and after he picked up an injury, it was UDFA rookie Albert Wilson who has stole the show. Even 2010 San Fransisco pick Kyle Williams has been showing up on the camp scoreboard regularly with Alex Smith throwing deep to him. With the Chiefs likely only taking six receivers on their 53-man roster, it can’t be comfortable for Jenkins to watch other players he’s competing with gain the headlines. Even still, Head Coach Andy Reid has been very positive about Jenkins during camp. ”I like what I see,” coach Andy Reid said. ”A.J.’s been doing a consistent job, which is good. He’s catching the ball well.” Alex Smith made the observation that Jenkins had missed a large part of the 2013 preseason with the Chiefs, so learning the playbook and getting into the program happened during the season, and it put him at a disadvantage.
A.J. Jenkins is a talent, no doubt about it, and with his salary guaranteed this year, he’ll likely keep a roster spot if he keeps himself just above the other receivers he’s competing against. However, if several younger, cheaper options show well in preseason games, the Chiefs may not be able to stash someone on the practice squad. That could doom Jenkins’ chances if he doesn’t shine. It’s a position where production matters, and he’s definitely on the wrong side of that argument. These four upcoming preseason games may end up being some of the more important games he’s played in his career, and he’s going to have to show why he deserves his roster spot. After that, the Chiefs are so uncertain at the receiver position that he could still end up making an impact in 2014 and earning a spot on the 2015 squad.