SANTA CLARA (CBS / AP) — Jim Harbaugh regularly goes against the grain, never concerned if he’s popular or trendy in the process.
And the reigning NFL coach of the year has already pulled off a pair of stunning picks in the NFL draft that few—if any—saw coming.
A day after defending NFC West champion San Francisco selected Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins at No. 30 in the NFL draft’s first round, the 49ers took Oregon running back LaMichael James 61st overall in the second to join an already jammed backfield.
Good thing the creative Harbaugh loves competition all over the field. He’s going to get it, all right.
“It’s going to get real real, and it’s going to get real real, real fast,” Harbaugh said.
Now, the Niners—through the first two days of the draft and free agency—have significantly upgraded an offense that was overshadowed by an outstanding defense and stellar special teams in last year’s turnaround season.
“The way you look at the roster, very good possibility there will be six wide receivers,” Harbaugh said. “That’s to be determined, to watch unfold. I can see that happening with the talent we have now. (Running back), you could say that at least five, possibly six.”
Harbaugh suddenly will have some big decisions to make come training camp considering he must decide how to divvy up the touches between James, three-time Pro Bowler Frank Gore, newly signed Brandon Jacobs and reliable second-year player Kendall Hunter.
“It’s great to have these options,” Harbaugh said. “You’re fighting and building at the same time. That’s what we’re doing.”
General manager Trent Baalke put it this way: “It’s like poker, it’s a full house. That’s good, right?”
Who would expect anything less than an element of surprise from this now-surging franchise as it chases another Super Bowl? It’s already been a dramatic offseason in which the Niners made a three-year offer to quarterback Alex Smith, then pursued now-Broncos QB Peyton Manning before ultimately sticking with Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick.
James is confident he can contribute in the return game and joked perhaps even block a field goal.
“I haven’t blocked any yet, but I will. Coming soon, I’m going to block some,” he said from his home in Texas.
James ran for 5,082 yards and 53 touchdowns on 771 career carries in three seasons with the Ducks. He had 49 carries for 382 yards and four TDs in two games against Harbaugh’s Stanford team before the coach jumped to the NFL last year.
“He’s so intense about effort. Hard-core coach,” James said.
“I’d love to play for a coach like that.”
Harbaugh and Baalke love Jenkins’ versatility, too.
Jenkins got called “E.T.” as a teen for his conspicuously
large hands and long fingers. He didn’t mind then, and now he relishes the nickname. He could palm a basketball by age 12, and those hands have served him well ever since.
On Friday, when the Niners formally introduced their top pick, Jenkins juggled a football for photographers and spun it on the ground right over the large SF at the 50-yard line of one of the team’s practice fields.
“In high school, they called me E.T. because I had big hands and big fingers,” Jenkins said. “So, I got picked on a lot for my hands. But they came for good use at something. That’s good enough.”
As for the references to the sci-fi movie hit, “E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial,” Jenkins said, “I don’t mind, I don’t care, it’s cool.”
Jenkins is on a cross-country joy ride after flying into the Bay Area from his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.
Jenkins beamed while holding up his new red No. 17 Niners jersey. When asked why that number after wearing No. 8, he quipped, “Seven plus one is eight.”
The talented wideout made quite an impression on Day 1 for more than his large hands. He was spiffy from head to toe in a dark pinstripe suit, lavender button-up dress shirt and matching diamond-patterned tie, accessorized by a pair of sparkly diamond studs in his ears.
“This is tailored. I didn’t buy it, it was free, you know?”
Jenkins said, chuckling.
Jenkins flew to San Francisco on a 6 a.m. flight Friday, and had yet to sleep at all when he arrived at team headquarters for a day he had been waiting for all his life. He watched a movie on the plane “still with jitters in my stomach,” then immediately started talking football with his new teammates and coaches. He spoke with fellow receiver and return man Ted Ginn Jr. among others.
“Well, I haven’t slept yet. I’m still up but right now I’m trying to just embrace the moment,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins will have some business to attend to back home soon, too. On Friday, he cleared up exactly what happened amid the craziness at his house when the 49ers called. His cousin had previously pranked him earlier pretending to be a team. And Jenkins thought it was happening again when San Francisco rang.
“The boy who cried wolf I guess, so I didn’t really believe him,” Jenkins said. “So, I’m in the bathroom still and he kicked the door down, like literally on the floor. And he threw me the phone. So, that is probably going to be my first present to buy my mom a new bathroom door.”
The 6-foot, 192-pound Jenkins—those hands measure 9 ½ inches thumb to pinkie—had 90 catches for 1,276 yards and eight touchdowns in his senior season for the Fighting Illini and led the Big Ten Conference with an average of 6.92 receptions per game. He caught 19 TD passes during his four-year college career.
Jenkins is set to graduate with a sports management degree May 13 — and Harbaugh has already given his support for Jenkins to be there despite it being the weekend of San Francisco’s first rookie minicamp.
“This is a great step in a journey and a lot of hard work,” Harbaugh said.
San Francisco traded its 92nd pick in the third round to the Colts for Indianapolis’ spot at No. 97 in Saturday’s fourth round as well as a fifth-round selection in 2013.
Baalke liked the move to pick early Saturday.
“We got a good offer. It came down to that,” Baalke said.
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