Chiefs/49ers Swap of 1st Round Draft Busts May Provide New Hope
What do two teams do when they realize that they have wasted a first round pick in a prior draft on WR that has been a complete bust up to this point? They make a trade between themselves!
Today's trade of Jonathan Baldwin for A.J. Jenkins between the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Francisco 49ers is a reflection of both teams not wanting to just release a guy they recently selected with a first round pick. The Chiefs made Baldwin a late first round selection in 2011 while the 49ers did the same with Jenkins in 2012.
In two seasons with the Chiefs, Baldwin caught a combined 41 passes for 579 yards and 2 TD's. He was drafted to be a strong supporting WR opposite Dwayne Bowe and because of his size (6'4", 230 lbs) be able to win contested throws and be a prime target in the red zone. But injuries, along with reports of a lack of work ethic and poor attitude, dogged him both seasons. When Andy Reid became the new head coach in Kansas City, I had my questions about whether a WR like Baldwin would be a good fit for his west coast style of offense where it's predicated more on shorter routes and the WR making plays after the catch. After all, Baldwin is not a burner, and despite his size doesn't show a willingness to go get the football over the middle.
The 49ers selection of Jenkins in round 1 in the 2012 NFL Draft just proved to be a waste. Jenkins wasn't known to be a physical WR who could beat press coverage or the sharpest route runner. But in college he was considered to be good at finding the soft spots in zone coverage and elusive after the catch. Maybe they thought they needed a finesse WR opposite of physical Michael Crabtree? Whatever they thought at the time, it couldn't have turned out any worse than it did. Jenkins didn't make a single regular or post season reception at all as a rookie. He was routinely inactive on game days and showed very inconsistent hands in practices.
So will a change of scenery do either of these WR's any good?
It could for Baldwin. Baldwin's practice habits under Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers coaching staff will go a long ways in determining if he can revitalize his career in San Francisco. It could take a few weeks into the regular season, but I can see a scenario where under the tutelage of Harbaugh, and the veteran presence of another physical WR in Anquan Boldin, the light bulb comes on for him and he starts to assert himself. After all, it's not like the 49ers have any great options in front of him. Michael Crabtree is out at least until the last 4 weeks of the regular season with his Achilles tear; Mario Manningham is slated to start the season on the PUP list and miss the first 6 weeks of the season as he tries to recover from tears to both his ACL and PCL suffered last season; Kyle Williams is less than 11 months removed from his own torn ACL injury; rookie Quinton Patton just recently got clearance to take part in pass catching drills as he had a fractured finger and he was routinely described as disappointing back in OTA's; then there's a slew of players including Marlon Moore (castoff from Miami), Ricardo Lockette (castoff from Seattle), Lavelle Hawkins (castoff from New England and Tennessee), Kassim Osgood (castoff from several teams), and Austin Collie (talented, but an injury time bomb waiting to happen because of his history of multiple concussions). None of these other players have the physical skills or upside Baldwin has. The path to the starting lineup is there if Baldwin applies himself.
For Jenkins, he's a better fit for the Chiefs west coast scheme than Baldwin was, but he's got to show a willingness to go over the middle and an ability to actually catch the ball when it's thrown to him. His hands have been terrible and the location switch has him unlikely to be doing more than battling for the 4th or 5th WR spot in Kansas City with guys like Devon Wylie, Junior Hemingway, Terrence Cooper, and Jamar Newsome. I seriously doubt Jenkins is a legitimate threat to compete for either the Chiefs #2 or #3 WR jobs.
The biggest beneficiary of the trade really was Chiefs WR Donnie Avery. Avery was battling Baldwin for the starting job opposite Dwayne Bowe. The trade solidifies Avery's spot as the starter now while Dexter McCluster solidifies his role as the #3/slot WR. If Avery can stay healthy, he'll flirt with 40 receptions, 600 yards and a couple of TD's. Not enough to give him viable fantasy value, but better than he would get in a split with Baldwin. A split with Jenkins is possible, but Jenkins would need to really show dramatic improvement in all aspects of his game. I don't see it happening, even in a better scheme fit.