The season-ending injuries to Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham have opened the door for first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins to make plays for the team. Last week, Jim Harbaugh said he had confidence in him to ‘step it up’ with the thin depth at wide receiver. He reiterated these statements on Monday.
“Do I think he can [contribute in the playoffs]? Yes,” said Harbaugh. “Will we need him to? Yes. We need him to step up and we definitely think he’s capable of doing that.”
Jenkins had his chance on Sunday in the first quarter when the 49ers were trailing the Arizona Cardinals 3-0. On third-and-5, he was open on a crossing route with Kaepernick throwing a pass on-target. It was designed for Jenkins to catch the ball in stride and have a first down. The ball went right through his hands and the 49ers were forced to punt.
He was on the field for 19 snaps on Sunday but was unable to get open and thrown to outside of the lone drop. Ted Ginn Jr., the last receiver on the 49ers’ depth chart only has two receptions and one receiving yard. He played seven snaps as a receiver, but wasn’t targeted or was used for blocking.
With the lack of productions from Jenkins, the 49ers have no slot receiver. While Michael Crabtree produced a career high 172 receiving yards and two touchdowns, there is no balance among everyone else. Randy Moss had two catches, one for 20 and another for eight yards which isn’t good enough.
The 49ers could be in a sticky situation like last year if there are only two wide receivers who can produce. In the NFC Championship game, Josh Morgan and Ted Ginn Jr. were both hurt, leaving Crabtree and Williams as the only two wide receivers for the game. Alex Smith was throwing the ball to Vernon Davis, Delanie Walker and Frank Gore more than Crabtree or Williams. The wide receiver position only had one reception for three yards during the entire game.
Despite having four receivers on the roster, the 49ers only have two receivers who can produce. Moss is in for occasional receptions, but the team is too dependent on Crabtree. Opposing teams will focus on Crabtree in the postseason. Kaepernick tried to find him several times beyond the 13 times he was thrown to, but he was forced to throw the ball away when he was well-covered. If the running game is shut down by the opposition and Crabtree is double-teamed, who do the 49ers throw to? Davis has been fading in recent games and Kaepernick rarely targets him while Walker has been the frequent tight end he throws to. Walker has been an inconsistent tight end with a drop in each of the last three games.
A slot receiver gives the 49ers’ passing game more flexibility. If teams focus their coverage on Moss, Crabtree and the tight end position, Jenkins should have more opportunity to get open and make an impact. He is still a work in progress, but the 49ers need him now if they want to go deep in the postseason.