With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before and after the 2012 scouting combine, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue this year's series with North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins. Spend a decade covering the draft, and you will read hundreds of police reports and small-town newspaper accounts of players getting into trouble on campus, at the local bar, or while driving down Rural Route 997. About 90 percent of them are best written off as youthful transgressions or campus hi-jinks. It's easy to type "watch out for his character issues, because he got caught with a nickel bag rolled in his tube sock when he was 17," but it is harder to seriously mean it.
Then you come across a prospect who was arrested three times for marijuana possession, got kicked off the University of Florida football team, transferred to North Alabama, yet still (according to reports after his interviews with NFL teams) continued to smoke pot. When not smoking up, this prospect found time to father four children with three different women. So … how do you classify this information?
Brian Billick talked at length about this subject at the combine. It boils down to recognizing the difference between an isolated mistake and something which is core to the character and the personality of the individual. Jenkins' pattern of lifestyle choices clearly points toward the latter, so NFL teams are surely doing their homework to find out where Jenkins the football player begins and where Jenkins the character from a Wu Tang Clan album ends.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's look at some tape and see what Jenkins brings to the field.
Pros: Jenkins is a smooth, natural man-to-man defender. He can turn his hips and run with elite receivers. While at Florida, he effectively covered the likes of Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffery, receivers who were several inches taller and far thicker than Jenkins. Jenkins loses very little speed when cutting and gets into good position when defending deep passes. He can jump routes in front of him and undercuts routes over the middle of the field.
Jenkins is willing to throw his body around. He slices through blockers to get involved in tackles on wide receiver screens. He anticipates running plays and is willing to charge into position, set the edge, and engage a blocker, even if that blocker swallows him whole. Jenkins uses his speed well when blitzing off the edge, though he could show a little more urgency when flushing the quarterback.
Jenkins has good hands and could be effective in the return game. He is quick and nifty with the ball in his hands.
Cons: Jenkins is short, and while he is well-built and tenacious, bigger receivers can box him out. He is a drag-down tackler.
Jenkins does his own thing in coverage at times. Often, he slides around well, reading the patterns developing in front of him. Other times, he is clearly freelancing. Put him Cover-2 zone against a simple slants-and-flats route combination, and he might completely ignore the receiver running into the flat (his zone) while focusing on the slant.
Jenkins had an up-and-down performance during Senior Bowl practices. He was clearly the best athlete on the field at times. But whereas other cornerbacks were breathing fire (Alfonzo Dennard looked like he was ready to rip someone's head off during stretches), Jenkins looked like he was coasting. If a receiver beat him during one-on-one drills, he did not turn to pursue, jogging to line up for his next rep instead. That's not the kind of effort a player with red flags wants to project.
Conclusion: Some NFL players smoke pot. In fact, two second-year Lions players got busted in the last month for possession. When you think of what "busted for possession" means, you realize that the individual was walking around with it, driving around with it, and giving law enforcement some cause to look for it. One bust is often a sign of casual, habitual use. Three shows a considerable lack of restraint and judgment.
Similarly, many NFL players have somewhat … sordid romantic backgrounds that have resulted in a plurality of non-traditional families (that's how "they cannot keep it in their pants" sounds when you are used to writing for The New York Times). On the one hand, the professional and the personal should be separate. On the other hand, holy cow kid, show just a smidgen of self control when other people's lives and futures are at stake.
Take the off-the-field stuff out of the equation, and Jenkins is a mid-first-round value. His height is an issue, as is his tendency to freelance in zone coverage. But anyone who pretends that there isn't a storage shed full of baggage is crazy. If ever there was a player who needed Tony Dungy hovering on his shoulder with wings and a halo, it's Jenkins. Whatever team selects him will have to take a proactive approach to his conduct. If the Bengals select him, heaven help us.
NFL Comparison: DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins
More Shutdown 50:
#25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State | #26: Nick Perry, DE, USC | #27: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska | #28: Dontari Poe, DT/DE, Memphis | #29: Whitney Mercilus, OLB/DE, Illinois | #30: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson| #31, Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson | #32: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford | #33: Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi | #34: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | #35: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama | #36: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse| #37: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech | #38: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall| #39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers| #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina| #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska| #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska| #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia| #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami| #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State| #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU|#50: Jonathan Massaqoui, OLB/DE, Troy