NFC West: Baldwin Jenkins trade

NFL teams have drafted three wide receivers with the 25th through 35th picks over the past three years.

All three of the receivers have NFC West ties. All three are facing important and possibly pivotal 2013 seasons:

  • Jon Baldwin: The Kansas City Chiefs drafted him 26th overall from Pittsburgh in 2011. Baldwin owns 10 starts in 26 regular-season games. He had 41 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns over that span before the Chiefs traded him to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday. New coach Andy Reid seemed to be losing patience with Baldwin recently.
  • A.J. Jenkins: The 49ers drafted Jenkins 30th overall from Illinois in 2012. They traded him to the Chiefs on Monday after Jenkins had run 35 regular-season plays (16 pass routes) over three games without making a reception. Jenkins joins former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith seeking a fresh start in Kansas City. Getting something in return for Jenkins made more sense than releasing him outright simply because the 49ers need talent at the position.
  • Brian Quick: The St. Louis Rams drafted Quick 33rd overall from Appalachian State in 2012. Quick caught 11 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie. Questions remain about his ability to contribute in the short term. The assumption has been that Quick would have time to develop. As the Jenkins trade shows, assumptions about early draft choices getting a couple seasons aren't always safe. I'd still expect Quick to stick around on the initial 53-man roster. How he performs over the final preseason games could give us additional clues regarding his trajectory.

The chart shows 2012 receiving yardage leaders for rookie wideouts. Chris Givens, drafted by the Rams in the fourth round, led rookie receivers from the NFC West. Arizona's Michael Floyd wasn't far behind. Givens and Floyd project among the more promising young players in the division heading into 2013.

Last week, we considered whether 35 offensive snaps and 16 pass routes were enough for the San Francisco 49ers to fully assess second-year wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

Turns out it was enough.

The 49ers traded Jenkins to the Kansas City Chiefs for receiver Jon Baldwin, another disappointing first-round draft choice. This move is good for the 49ers in that it shows they'll move on from a disappointing player without carrying him on their roster just to keep up appearances. The move is also bad for the 49ers in that Jenkins' departure after making zero regular-season receptions reflects poorly on the team's decision to draft him.

Baldwin, chosen 26th overall in 2011 by the Chiefs' previous leadership, has 41 receptions for 579 yards and two touchdowns in 26 regular-season games. Jenkins, the 30th overall choice in 2012, played in three games without making a reception. He becomes the 49ers' highest-profile personnel misfire since Trent Baalke became general manager and Jim Harbaugh became head coach.

The 49ers had hoped Jenkins would provide a needed vertical speed element to their offense. They could seemingly still use that element as they look to create better matchups for receiver Anquan Boldin, who beats defenses with strength, not speed. Tight end Vernon Davis does provide the 49ers with a deep threat and he has gotten practice reps at wide receiver, but Jenkins was seen as a key player the team hoped to develop this offseason.

Baldwin is a different type of player. He stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 230 pounds and had a 40-yard dash time in the 4.5-second range. Jenkins is 6-0 and 192 pounds with a 40-yard time in the 4.4-range.

The 49ers and Chiefs played one another in a preseason game Friday night. The Chiefs' big and physical starting corner, Sean Smith, roughed up Jenkins and shut him down. The 49ers will face similar cornerbacks in NFC West play. Jenkins was not going to match up well against them unless he could get off the line of scrimmage and put his speed to use.

Davis, safety Donte Whitner and other 49ers players polled this offseason said they thought Jenkins would be the young wide receiver to emerge as the preseason unfolded. Jenkins lost a fumble after his lone reception against Denver in the preseason opener. A penalty against an offensive lineman for holding wiped out a 21-yard reception Jenkins made against the Chiefs' backups.

LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Darius Fleming, Trenton Robinson, Jason Slowey and Cam Johnson were the other players San Francisco drafted in 2012. Fleming suffered a season-ending injury this offseason. Slowey is no longer with the team. James is fighting for playing time at running back. Looney, Robinson and Johnson are backups.

Last offseason, Harbaugh defended Jenkins from media criticism. The defending appeared justified, in my view, because Jenkins was just getting started. One training camp generally isn't enough to evaluate a player. Thirty-five regular-season snaps generally isn't enough, either. This move by the 49ers validates outside criticisms of Jenkins. The team wouldn't be moving on from a 2012 first-round draft choice if it thought Jenkins would have factored.