The Eagles added Malcolm Jenkins on the first day of Free Agency, and it’s definitely an upgrade to a bad group of Safeties that has been a team weakness since Brian Dawkins left.
But is Malcolm Jenkins the difference maker that will turn the group around?
Jenkins was a terrific college player at Ohio State, where he earned a first-round draft spot by the New Orleans Saints. But Jenkins struggled at corner, where he was often beat by Receivers during a tough rookie year and eventually moved to Free Safety.
While Jenkins has certainly been a much better Safety than he was a Corner, it begs a few questions:
1. Why would the Saints let a 26-year old former 1st round pick walk in his prime?
2. How much part did he play on the Saints historically-bad 2012 defense?
3. Will Eagles fans once again be frustrated by a Safety with tackling issues?
Let’s tackle them one-by-one: (something Jenkins won’t really be doing, but more on that later)
The Eagles hardly broke the bank on Jenkins with a 3-year, 16.5 mill deal, making you wonder why New Orleans made no attempt to keep him. According to Jenkins: “The Saints didn’t offer me anything. So I really had no choice but to move on”. But the Saints have been cleaning house this off-season on D, cutting S Roman Harper and CB Jabari Greer, while also letting longtime DE Will Smith and LB Jonathan Vilma leave. Sometimes a new Defensive Coordinator will elect to clean house to build around his own guys, but Jenkins is definitely the youngest of the players leaving.
New Orleans struck gold with 2013 rookie-of-the-year candidate Kenny Vaccaro, so maybe there was a thought that the team didn’t want to tie up too much money to one position. But Vaccaro is on a pretty affordable rookie deal, and is probably a year or two from an extension, so that doesn’t quite add up.
As far as his role on the 2012 ‘Aints defense? I don’t know. Steve Spagnuolo has been on an M. Night Shyamalan-esque slump since his famous 2007 Giants won the Super Bowl, and a lot of good guys looked awful that year. Still, for a team that allowed more big plays than any defense in history, it’s definitely a question worth asking.
What Jenkins is, is a Center Fielder-type Free Safety. His coverage skills are solid and he’s able to use his 4.5-speed to take away a lot of the field. That’s definitely the best of what he brings. But Jenkins also missed 16 tackles, the fifth-highest among all NFL Safeties, in 2013.
Isn’t this what fans hated about Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Pat Chung??
I think some of that is left over from the disastrous tackling that plagued 2011, when undersized Safeties had massive run-stopping responsibilities in Jim Washburn’s Wide-9. Let’s face it, those guys weren’t the right guys for the job.
But let’s also be honest here; that system is no longer and place, and we saw Nate Allen have a much better 2013 when he was simple playing coverage and not forced to Trotter-up in the box. Safeties shouldn’t be in position to make one-on-one tackles that much. It’s like a Steve Buscemi sex-scene. Just isn’t a good look. I think the role Jenkins takes in Philly will be what Allen played in 2013.
Frankly, New Orleans was forced to used Jenkins in the box on 38% of snaps with Vaccaro more-so playing deep. Jenkins, a former Cornerback, playing a Strong Safety? That’s a miscast. Steve Buscemi. Maybe that’s why the Saints elected to move on. Sometimes it’s about fit. And if the Eagles elect to play Jenkins to his strengths: Deep, 25 yards off the ball, he’ll do well. Their apparent unwillingness to keep Allen tells me that’s what they’ll do, and I think Jenkins will be a good player for the Eagles.
But don’t expect a major difference maker. Jenkins’ value will come from the plays that are NOT made by opposing QBs.