First off, I should introduce myself to the BGN community. I'm Jonny (@JonnyPage9 - feel free to follow me on Twitter) and I live across the pond in London and I'm going to be contributing my all22 articles to BGN. I'll hopefully have something new out every week or so if I can find the time as the pieces are normally pretty long and in-depth, I've been posting all22 the last couple of months over at eyeoftheeagles.com and I'll be republishing a couple of my favorite pieces here to BGN over the next couple of weeks.
The safety position in the NFL is changing. Pat Kirwan does a great job of discussing this in his latest book 'Keep Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0'. Kirwan discusses how any NFL team must have a contingent of safeties who as a group can perform specific functions that include - dropping into the box to defend the run, playing as the deep safety in single-high coverage, covering half the field in two-deep coverage and being able to cover tight ends and wide receivers in man coverage. Kirwan then states this:
If a team can find a guy who has three of those traits, it will probably try to lock him up with a seven year-contract. A guy with two of those traits will still be very useful, and he'll probably get a four-year deal.
You could make a strong case that Malcolm Jenkins can do all 4 of those functions that Kirwan mentions pretty well. This is what make Jenkins an extremely special player. In the Eagles defense, Jenkins wasn't asked to cover the field in two-deep coverage or play single-high coverage often, but he can do it if required. He excels at playing in the box to defend the run and is one of the only safeties in the NFL that can consistently cover wide receivers and tight ends. I expect this year we'll see more of him in two-deep coverage as Jim Schwartz runs a lot of cover 2. Kirwan directly references Jenkins in the book, here is what he has to say about him.
Consider a guy like Malcolm Jenkins, who the Saints took with the 14th pick of the 2009 NFL Draft. He won the Thorpe Award as a cornerback at Ohio State, but he came into the league at 6'0" and 204 pounds. The Saints soon found he could cover a wide receiver, defend the deep middle or cover half the field in a two-deep zone, and they moved him to safety in his second NFL season. Plus, Jenkins is stout enough to play the run- he proved that immediately in Philadelphia where he signed as a free agent in 2014; in his first season with the Eagles, he led the team in tackles. Jenkins has become the model for the kinds of safeties we're seeing more and more in the NFL.
I love that last line. Everyone wants a Malcolm Jenkins on their roster right now, he is invaluable to a defense in today's NFL. You can be a very good safety in the NFL if you can only perform 1 or 2 of those functions mentioned above well. Jenkins is a true difference maker though as he is so versatile and this allows defensive coordinators to use him in a variety of ways.
Most of my film pieces recently have looked at the Eagles young players and discussed what I think of them moving forward. I'm going to do something different here though and break down why I think Malcolm Jenkins is such a special player.
Let's start by looking at Malcolm Jenkins in coverage, last year the Eagles used him as a slot cornerback a lot of the time for a couple of reasons. 1) He's actually a really good cornerback and 2) they didn't really have anyone else who could play that role.
Here you can see Jenkins covering in the slot and I think he's lined up against Jarvis Landry who is an excellent route runner. Jenkins is an intelligent player which helps him in coverage, here he knows he has a single high safety so he gives Landry inside release. When Landry makes a sharp cut to the outside, Jenkins flips his hips extremely quickly and stays with him stride for stride. Not bad for a safety.
Against the Cardinals last year Jenkins was put in man coverage against Larry Fitzgerald, one of the best route runners in the NFL, and held him to under 50 yards receiving. In this clip, Fitzgerald is lined up outside but Jenkins stays with him in man coverage. Fitzgerald gets a decent push off but Jenkins stays close and Palmer is forced to throw the ball too high. If Palmer put the ball in the correct spot, this could have been picked.
This clip shows how Jenkins really can play like a cornerback, he's covering Chris Hogan in the slot and Hogan actually gets a step on Jenkins which means he can't turn around and play the ball. However, Jenkins has forced Hogan to the outside throughout the route and he keeps his eyes on Hogan's hands perfectly and the second Hogan goes up to get the ball, Jenkins swats it away and forces him out of bounds. This is perfect technique for a cornerback if you are unable to get your head turned around.
Jenkins can also cover tight ends and he was matched up against a number of good tight ends last year. I've mentioned before how Jenkins is a smart player and this is shown again here. This is 3rd and 7 and Jenkins is covering Jordan Cameron. He gets pushed back a little but he shows good awareness and makes sure he keeps Cameron in front of the first down line and tackles him for no gain. He rarely misses these tackles.
Jenkins is covering a running back here but I thought I would show this play because it's just such an unbelievable play. Jenkins biggest weakness is probably dropping balls that he should intercept but he makes a wonderful catch here.
Let's end looking at Jenkins in coverage by looking at one of the best plays of last season. This is the 4th down play that the Patriots failed to convert, meaning the Eagles won the game. Firstly, Jenkins is lined up in the slot on the right hand side and he stays with his guy. Just look at what he does next though, he sees that the pass is going to the receiver behind him and he sharply turns around and delivers a fierce hit which helps knock the ball out. This is an awesome play and once again highlights just how aware Jenkins is to his surroundings.
Another benefit to Jenkins playing as a slot cornerback is that he can tackle and shed blocks like a prototypical strong safety. This allows Jenkins to blow up numerous short passes like the one above by quickly shedding his blocker and wrapping up the ball carrier. Jenkins tackling technique is consistently excellent and there are so many examples of Jenkins making great plays like this last season.
Here's another example of Jenkins doing the same thing, he easily sheds the wide receivers block and makes a great tackle in the open field on Brandon Marshall. He even forces the fumble here, not bad for a guy who supposedly had issues with missed tackles before joining the Eagles.
Let's finish by looking at the other aspect of Jenkins game which he excels at, stopping the run. Jenkins does a good job stopping the run as both a deep safety and a box safety. Here you can see him come down from the safety position and make a nice play. He doesn't go mad and charge up the middle because he'd be easily blocked by the right guard and would lose sight of the ball carrier. He stays back and avoids the right guard while always keeping his eyes on the ball carrier, this allows him to charge downfield and make a great tackle at the line of scrimmage when the time is right. This is just smart football again.
Here Jenkins shows great discipline as the single-high safety, this is something new Eagles signing Rodney McLeod excels at. When you are the playing the single-high safety, you are literally the last line of defense. If you get beat, the play will probably result in a touchdown. Jenkins knows this and shows discipline by not charging downhill and taking a bad angle but waiting until he can get to the ball carrier without being blocked.
This play just shows Jenkins at his very best, how many safeties can make this play? Jenkins is right up at the line of scrimmage, he gets off the snap quickly and bursts through two Patriots lineman and makes the play in the backfield. A linebacker would be proud of this play. Also, this play was two plays before the famous Walter Thurmond pick six that Jenkins helped cause by tipping the ball up in the air.
Let's end this post with another good play by Jenkins. I thought this play was a good one to show because it's something Jenkins will be doing a lot of next year. Jim Schwartz expects his safeties to be able to set the edge, which is one reason why he never tried to re-sign Thurmond. Jenkins sets the edge here as well as a linebacker would. He keeps his arms extended so he can push the Panthers tight end back whilst keeping his eyes in the backfield and then makes the play on the running back.
Normally with my film pieces, I sum up what I think of the player moving forward because I have focused on the younger Eagles. There's no need to do that with Jenkins seeing as we all know by now that he's a stud. I personally think he's actually underrated by some Eagles fans, there really aren't many safeties in the NFL that can play as many roles as he can in a defense. I think you can certainly make an argument that he's one of the best, if not the best, safeties in the NFL right now.
As I said earlier, every team now wants a Malcolm Jenkins on their defense.