By signing Malcolm Jenkins, the Eagles have certainly upgraded the Safety position. How much of an upgrade he’ll provide is a hot topic for debate right now, but ultimately we’ll have to wait and see on that.
I’ll admit, I was a little let down when the news was announced. Even though I knew it was a long shot, I held out hope that the Eagles would pull a stunner and land Jairus Byrd. More realistically, though, I had thought Mike Mitchell would end up being the guy.
I had Jenkins as my third choice.
After sleeping on it, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m “okay” with the addition of Jenkins and the subsequent non-addition of either Byrd or Mitchell. I can reason with it in my head by saying Byrd cost too much and Mitchell could be just a “one year wonder.”
So, the most glaring hole on the team has been filled by a player whom everyone now seems to be in a debate about just how good he is, isn’t and/or will be.
When you look at Jenkins’ stats via Pro Football Focus (everyone is having fun with PFF stats on Twitter today) and Football Outsiders, they will paint a picture of an average-to-below average player.
The numbers will show a promising start to his career in 2009 and 2010, level off in 2011, then start to decline in 2012 and 2013. Missed tackles and lack of impact plays are the main strikes against him.
So, why would they sign him? Well, I think their reasoning can be summed up by one play on the football field that was described nicely by Peter King of Sports Illustrated:
Let’s describe what Malcolm Jenkins, and the Saints, faced with seven minutes to go in the third quarter Sunday afternoon at Tampa. The Saints led 28-21 and had the Bucs pinned at their 4-yard line. At 1-4, and 4.5 games out of first place in the NFC South, New Orleans faced a must-win game here to have any shred of playoff hope.
Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman lofted a throw to wide receiver Vincent Jackson between the numbers and the left sideline, and Jackson caught it at the 26 in full stride, having beaten two Saints defenders. Every Saint’s heart sank. There was nobody between Jackson and the goal line, 74 yards away. It was a gimme touchdown.
I’ve looked up the dimensions of the NFL field, and ran the play over and over about 20 times on NFL Game Rewinds in the wee hours of this morning. This is what Jenkins faced as he turned from covering his man to look at Jackson catching the ball: He was at the far right hashmark on the other side of the field, precisely 27 yards across the field and three yards behind where Jackson was in full gallop. It looked impossible, but Jenkins said he didn’t think of that. “Just, ‘Go as fast you can.’ ”
Right away, you could see he might have a chance. Jackson, who’d been limited all week in practice because of a calf strain, was running at tight end speed. Jenkins, who runs about a 4.47-second 40-yard dash, took a very good angle, from watching the replay over and over. It looked like he aimed to go on a straight line from where he began, at about the Bucs’ 23, to the Saints’ 20. Running at a bad angle here would have ruined him. If he aimed to catch Jackson near the goal line, he wouldn’t be able to contact him in time.
“Vincent Jackson, he’s not slow,” Jenkins said. “I think what affected the play is we were in a regular Cover 2, and they quick-snapped the ball. Roman Harper went for the ball against Jackson, but they completed it, and then nobody’s around. So the first thing is to just run and see what happens.”
When Jackson got to midfield, Jenkins was 10 yards to the side and six yards behind.
“I saw him start to slow down a bit,” Jenkins said.
“I obviously wasn’t 100 percent,” Jackson said.
When Jackson got to the Saints’ 30, Jenkins was three yards to the side and three yards behind. Jackson looked to his right and seemed to feel him gaining. At the 20, Jenkins was two strides from being able to touch Jackson.
At about the 12, Jenkins, now behind him, reached out and contacted Jackson. At first touch, Jackson was at the 10. When Jenkins got both hands on him, Jackson was at the 7. Then it was a pigpile on Jackson, who contacted the earth, with Jenkins on his back, at the 1.5-yard line.
“That was a great feeling, to catch him,” said Jenkins.
No time to back-pat. The ball was spotted at the 1.5-yard line, and the play clock started. Jackson went to the sideline and fresh troops came in for Tampa Bay, including a fresh running back, LeGarrette Blount. But Jenkins stayed in. The Saints stoned the Bucs on first and second down. Now it was 3rd-and-goal from exactly the 1.
Jenkins was still huffing and puffing when he lined up outside the right end’s shoulder. “Third down,” Jenkins said. “No time to be tired, or to feel sorry for yourself. Not much being said at that point.” At the snap of the ball, Jenkins evaded the scrum and shot past the line, driving and corralling Blount’s right leg. No gain. And Freeman’s weak try at a play-action rollout on fourth down was foiled by defensive end Cameron Jordan, who pushed him out at the 5.
“The defense really stepped up,” said Jenkins, “and stoned ’em.” Leave it to Drew Brees to take the Saints 95 yards the other way then, for what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Within minutes, the game that should have been a 28-28 tie turned into a 35-21 Saints lead.
“A 14-point swing in what could have been a tie game,” said Jenkins. “That was huge.”
If you want to see a quick clip of the play, click here.
That play exemplifies the kind of no-quit, never give up attitude. It was strictly a hustle play, but it paid off in a huge way. I particularly liked the “Third down,” Jenkins said. “No time to be tired, or to feel sorry for yourself” part.
Plus, that play happened during the disastrous 2012 season in New Orleans when Sean Payton was suspended and they were dealing with the “bounty scandal.” The season was falling apart at the time and Jenkins showed a lot of heart to play like that during a time like that.
Leadership, of course, is probably the biggest reason why the Eagles signed him. They feel he fits the culture that Chip Kelly is trying to build. He was voted the Saints’ defensive captain the past two seasons, has a reputation as a “film rat”, is competitive, is of high character and a go-to guy for the media.
However, all of that would mean little if he can’t produce on the field. And on the field, where all the debate currently rages, he’s been at least adequate, if unspectacular.
For some perspective on his play vs. his stats, check out this article by Jimmy Kempski.
And for some good All-22 film breakdown on Jenkins, check out this article by Sheil Kapadia.
Basically, his play may not be as bad as you think, given how he was used in New Orleans.
The key thing to remember when thinking about Jenkins is Chip’s favorite word: versatility. He can and will be used in a variety of ways that will allow Bill Davis flexibility in how he calls and devises game plans.
One last thing to consider regarding Jenkins and his stats/production decline:
He was considered an ascending player between 2009 – 2011 when he had Greg Williams as his defensive coordinator. In 2012, the entire Saints defense was a catastrophy under Steve Spagnuolo. Then he had to learn another scheme in 2013 under Rob Ryan.
That’s three different coordinators and schemes in each of the past three years. Could that correlate? It certainly could at least be a contributing factor as players’ production is often tied to their fit within their scheme.
The question will be how he adapts and performs in the Eagles’ defense. For now, Jenkins is a decent signing, but the real proof will be in the pudding come next season.
Here’s to hoping we look back on this signing as a “great move” and Jenkins is a solid starter for the next four or five seasons.