'The NFL Beat': Jenkins Island

Catching up with one of the NFL Draft's top CBs

'The NFL Beat': Jenkins Island

Janoris Jenkins will one day have an “island” of his own. Like Darelle Revis, or former University of Florida teammate Joe Haden, Jenkins possesses the ability to be a true NFL shutdown corner. A cover corner who leaves the opposing receiver feeling stranded, frustrated, and helpless like Tom Hanks in Castaway.

Lets kick off this "Beat" in Florence, Ala. The average 3,500 folks in attendance at Northern Alabama’s home games in 2011 represented a scene strikingly different from the 90,000 screaming SEC fanatics Jenkins was used to lining up in front of every Saturday for three years at Florida. “It helped me appreciate the opportunity I had [at Florida],” he said.

“They didn’t throw at me much. Hardly ever. I saw most of my action on special teams,” Jenkins told the Chroincle of his 2011 season at Northern Alabama. “I would just line up and man up. Alot of the guys, some of the other guys were younger. I would help with calling coverage, but just mainly line up on the side opposite the coaches.” Jenkins said, “They knew if I was manned up over there, I was good. They liked having the other guys over closer to them so they could yell calls if they needed to.”

I was in attendance at both the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine, and let me assure you, the Janoris Jenkins of 2010 still exists. There is no rust from his short sabbatical playing in the kiddie pool. Janoris wanted to earn his degree and separate himself from some of the influences that led to his eventual dismissal from the Florida Gators football team with the arrival of Head Coach Will Muschamp. His off-the-field issues are well [or honestly, not so well] documented as I’ve found. But that is not the point here. "The NFL Beat" is about speed, precision, accuracy, and quickness. It is about recognition, reaction, and subsequent sickness.

“Jenkins.” I asked every wide receiver prospect I interviewed at both the Senior Bowl and the combine who the toughest DB they faced in college was. More than 50% had this response. This is the same Janoris Jenkins who plays with the most fluid hips of any NFL prospect in the 2012 draft. The same Janoris Jenkins who has successfully gone toe-to-toe in matchups with current NFL receiving studs such as Julio Jones and A.J. Green, among many others and given them absolute fits.

“A.J. [Green, Bengals WR], with A.J. you gotta watch him deep, he’s a big, tall guy you gotta play him for deep balls,” Jenkins said. “Every week you see him going up top. You gotta play him for that. If you noticed, he liked certain routes, the fade, the post, and the dig. Week in and week out, that is what you got.” Jenkins went on, “So with him, the first thing I think it is, ‘OK, I can eliminate curls, screens, and drags. I’m as quick as him. They can’t get me there.’ I gotta make sure I am always in position to cover him deep.”

Regarding Falcons WR Julio Jones, Jenkins said, “You know right off, he goes to try and out muscle you. He’s big and you know that he likes the post and the dig. He can run every route in the tree, but he loves those.” Jenkins added, “But other than that, it's pretty much like preparing for a guy like A.J. except he isn’t gonna run a curl or a 15-20-yard comeback. He can’t come out of his cuts quick enough.”

Jenkins plays with a fire and a controlled sense of violence that I find exhilarating. Of the WR prospects I interviewed at the combine, many noted his on-field demeanor was as intimidating as it looked. LSU WR Rueben Randle told me he was a “talker, he’ll trash talk ya a little, rib ya a little. He’ll try and get in your head.” I have enjoyed speaking with Janoris at the combine and Senior Bowl, but was able to speak with him in much greater depth today. It was great to just spend an hour talking some football with the guy.

The first thing I noticed was this man is a thinker. He is a thinking corner. Whether that is something you expected given the recent irresponsible mud-slinging about his character, that is a different story. To tell you the truth, I was even a little surprised. His level of premeditation and thought is so rare nowadays with the read/react nature of the position. As an NFL CB, your responsibilities are instinctive and urgent. His gait, cuts, and movements in small areas are reminiscent of someone frantically fighting their way out of a burning Porta-Potty, yet in a brilliantly smooth and naturally technical manner.

It is a rare combination of traits that make for a prospect who will not, as rumored, freefall down NFL teams draft boards as some media outlets [or, I should say, mouthpieces for big agencies who don’t like losing clients right before the draft] are saying. The NFL teams that are interested in this sick young man’s abilities are not concerned, my loyal reader. Trust me on this one. He’s a mid-to-high first-round talent and if he slides past the first half of the second round, I will be shocked. I am of the opinion that he is every bit as talented and NFL-ready as somewhat more highly touted CB prospects Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick. He reminds me of Asante Samuel with a dash of his good friend, Cleveland's Joe Haden, a close friend he refers to as his "big bro."

“I want to man up. Naturally that’s what I do, but I’m just as comfortable in the zone, even the slot,” Jenkins said. “I’ll play anywhere, gunner on special teams, kick returns, play against the slot if they need me coming in for nickel. I’ve learned you have to learn to play within a system. You forget that and you’re hurting your team. So yeah, in the slot, you’re going against faster guys, all it is is recognition of high help and low help once you know what angle they’re trying to come at.

“Like Rueben Randle,” Jenkins continued (apparently their respect for one another as prospects is mutual). “See, here you have quickness. It’s a kind of guy who you get in the slot and gotta pick him up on the slant, also some drags and some outs. Posts and gos you can basically eliminate if you recognize your help. In that spot, your job is to always watch that five-yard hitch route, and keep good position for the slants and the outs because that’s where he’s gonna try and get you.”

Jenkins has had a good handful of visits in the past two weeks with various NFL teams that he described as “getting to know you”-type events. “It was just about showing them the real me. We already did a lot of the workout stuff [at Pro Day, Senior Bowl, the combine and other private workouts]. It was about letting them know about my character and what I stand for. I’ve been through a humbling experience, but now I have a career ahead of me. My motivation is my kids. I love my kids and this is my career. It is serious. My biggest fear in life is seeing them, my kids, my family, disappointed.”

Personally, I foresee a lot of disappointed opposing wide receivers (and fantasy football owners of said WRs) being the individuals who are going to be most disappointed with anything having to do with Janoris Jenkins’ career moving forward.

[Alex Dunlap is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America, the host of RosterWatch on 104.9FM ESPN Radio Austin, founder of Rosterwatch.com, and a featured expert contributor to the FantasyPros.com network.]

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Janoris Jenkins, Off The Field, NFL Draft, A.J. Green, Joe Haden, Julio Jones

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