A is for A.J.: As in A.J. Jenkins, of course, the first name called by the 49ers in this year’s draft lottery and a guy the team feels has the potential to become a field-stretching, home-run-hitting No. 1 receiver. San Francisco grabbed the University of Illinois product with the No. 30 overall pick in the first round, which is higher than most draft analysts had him going, but Jenkins’ intriguing talent had him climbing up draft boards Thursday and the 49ers weren’t going to let him pass by.
B is for Baalke: As in 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, who by early appearances did well for his team again over the course of the draft, particularly considering his draft seven-shooter began the process with the 30th pick in every round as ammunition. Baalke wheeled and dealed, as is becoming his custom, stocked up early on some offensive playmakers with game-breaking potential, then grabbed a bunch of other youngsters who will have a legitimate shot at making the team at some of the thinner spots on the roster, just as 17 of the 18 prospects drafted by Baalke over the two previous years made the team as rookies.
C is for Competition: The Niners aren’t kidding when they say they’re always looking to add competition at every position. They were pretty well set entering the draft at running back – where they added to a solid unit with veterans Brandon Jacobs and Rock Cartwright in free agency – and at wide receiver, where veteran playmakers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham also joined the team as free agents in March. So what did the 49ers do in the draft? They used their top two draft picks to add a wide receiver and running back to two of their most-stocked positions.
D is for Defensive Backfield: As in San Francisco’s defensive backfield, which got stronger and may have filled a hole with the addition of early sixth-rounder Trenton Robinson, who played both free safety and cornerback at Michigan State and probably has the inside track on the team’s No. 4 safety job entering training camp.
E is for Edge Rushers: The 49ers, who went light last year with just three outside linebackers to fit into their 3-4 defensive scheme, are looking for fifth-rounder Darius Fleming and seventh-rounder Cam Johnson to develop as edge rushers who can compete for playing time on passing downs. Fleming might be more of a natural for the position, but both players have experience playing standing up as outside linebackers and with their hand in the ground at defensive end.
F is for Five: As in five draft picks out of one, which is what Baalke was able to get out of San Francisco’s initial third-round draft pick, the No. 92 overall, in trades with the Colts, Dolphins and Panthers. By trading down in a series of shrewd moves, Baalke picked up five total selections, three of which the team will have available in the 2013 draft.
G is for Greatest Moments: Which is what Robinson called being elected as a team captain at Michigan State last year – until the 49ers came calling on draft weekend, which may have been the topper. “It’s with the guys who you’re around every day, whether you’re off the field or on the field, to have them elect me as captain, it meant everything to me,” Robinson said. “That was one of the greatest moments of my life … leading up to this.”
H is for Harbaugh: As in Niners coach Jim Harbaugh, who got an up-close-and-personal look at second-rounder LaMichael James of Oregon, fourth-rounder Joe Looney of Wake Forest and fifth-rounder Fleming of Notre Dame when he coached against each multiple times while serving as the head coach at Stanford University. Harbaugh called that factor “very small” in the team’s decision to select those players.
I is for Illinois: As in the University of Illinois, alma mater of first-round pick Jenkins, the Big Ten school that has produced just three 49ers draft picks since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger. The only Big Ten school with fewer over that span is Northwestern with only one.
J is for LaMichael James: The exciting playmaker from the University of Oregon, the team’s second-round pick, is believed to be the first prospect named LaMicheal to play for the 49ers, more less to get drafted by them.
K is for Knockdown Blocks: Of which Looney recorded 79.5 during his senior season at Wake Forest, leading his team and averaging 6.1 times per game that the burly 309-pounder either flattened or blew back the unlucky defender who happened to get in his way – even though those unlucky defenders could see what was coming right in front of them. Looney finished with 228.5 knockdown blocks during his college career.
L is for Looney: Which you have to figure is what some of those defenders mentioned above were feeling after getting knocked around by San Francisco’s newest offensive line addition, whose surname seems befitting of the aggressive youngster wearing it.
M is for Michigan State: As in the alma mater for sixth-rounder Robinson, a ballhawk who in his two years as a regular starter in the Spartans’ secondary the past two seasons recorded 156 tackles, eight interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
N is for Numbers: As in the big numbers put up by James during his illustrious career at Oregon, where he became only the third player in Pac 10/12 history to rush for more than 5,000 yards – and he did it in just three seasons before declaring for the draft after his junior year. James had back-to-back-to-back seasons of 1,546 yards, 1,731 yards and 1,805 yards rushing for the Ducks, averaging 6.6 yards per carry during his college career while rumbling for 53 touchdowns on the ground and 58 total TDs.
O is for Oomph: As in the first word used by Harbaugh to characterize why Looney jumped out to him during an impressive interview with the Wake Forest product at the NFL Combine. “Oomph, pizzazz,” Harbaugh said. “Really bright guy. Really smart, smart person. Not only book smart, but street smart, football smart. Everything matched up. You cannot find a person on that (Wake Forest) campus who has anything less than glowing things to say about him.”
P is for Passes: As in passes caught by Jenkins, who had 167 career grabs at Illinois, including 90 receptions last year as a senior. His career total ranks third in school history and his season total ranks ninth in Big Ten history. He is one of only two players ever to catch 90 or more passes in Illinois history.
Q is for Quiz: As in the impromptu test Harbaugh gave Jenkins when the two met for the first time in April during the rookie’s pre-draft visit to 49ers headquarters. “He kind of quizzed me on NFL history,” Jenkins said. The questions included the name of the Packers’ stadium in Green Bay, the winner of the Heisman Trophy two years ago and the five bowl games in the college Championship Bowl Series. “He just asked me a lot of questions like that, and I was getting them right, though,” Jenkins said. Apparently, Jenkins finished with the same score as Atlanta receiver Julio Jones, an early first-round selection by the Falcons in 2011 who finished with the same score on the same spoken quiz given by Harbaugh. “I won’t compare him to any other players, but he scored very well. He’s a bright guy, a bright football guy,” Harbaugh said.”
R is for Reps: As in bench-press repetitions, which distinguish seventh-round selection Jason Slowey as something of a strongman in this year’s draft. Slowey, who dominated at the Division II level and was named Great Northwest Athletic Conference Offensive Lineman of the Year, bench-pressed 225 pounds 38 times during his Pro Day before the draft. His personal high at the weight is 45 repetitions. He’s done 21 repetitions at 305 pounds. “My bench is quite a bit,” Slowey said. No kidding.
S is for Sickle-Cell Anemia: A physical exam determined that seventh-round pick Cam Johnson has the trait for the genetic disorder sickle-cell anemia, which may have caused him to slip down some draft boards and be available to the Niners at the No. 237 overall selection. After being selected, Johnson said, “I’m feeling healthy and I’m ready to compete.”
T is for Trading Down: Baalke hasn’t been at it that long, but he already is becoming a master of maneuver during the draft process. The maneuver best used by Baalke this time was trading down, which allowed him to parlay the No. 92 overall pick of the third round into five other selections. One of them was used to trade up in the fourth round to get the offensive guard the 49ers really wanted – Looney – and another was used to grab Robinson early in the sixth round. Trading down with that one pick also netted the 49ers third-, fifth-, and sixth-round selections for 2013, when San Francisco is expected to have 12 draft picks.
U is for UCLA: As in the team Jenkins burned for the final touchdown reception of his career, a scintillating 60-yarder with 5:06 remaining in the game that gave Illinois a 20-14 victory over UCLA in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.
V is Virginia: As in the University of Virginia, alma mater of seventh-round selection Cameron Johnson, who joins 2005 seventh-rounder Patrick Estes as the only prospects the 49ers have drafted from that Atlantic Coast Conference school since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger.
W is for Western Oregon University: The small Division II college of 6,200 students in Monmouth splits about 12 scholarships among its entire football team and isn’t known for producing NFL talent, though it has had a decent run lately for a school of its size and level of competition. Seventh-round pick Jason Slowey, who had only his tuition paid by the school, is looking to continue the school’s pipeline to the big time. If he makes it with the 49ers, it will be considered a big deal up at WOU, where current NFL players Kevin Boss and Jeff Charleston are considered among the school’s most notable alumni.
X, Y and Z: As in the three receiver positions in San Francisco’s version of the West Coast offense, all of which can be played by first-round selection A.J. Jenkins, whom the Niners selected not only for his talent and potential – but also his versatility to play at split end, flanker and in the slot. That figures to triple the chance that San Francisco’s top pick will make some sort of impact and contribute at one of the team’s weakest and least productive areas last season.