Fourth Round, 104th Pick
Defensive prospects are at a premium in this year's draft. Especially the cream of the crop guys like Florida Gators linebacker Jelani Jenkins. He's one of the best outside linebackers in the entire draft. He will easily be an impact player in his first season and could be a long-term steal, much like Daryl Smith was for the Jaguars. Let's explore why that is.
1. Extremely reliable as a tackler
2. Great in both man and zone pass coverages
3. Diagnoses plays and has excellent leadership skills
1. Has trouble getting off blocks
2. Needs to improve hand usage
3. Pass rush is only effective with open lanes to the passer
He should be taken from the end of the second round to early fourth round.
Jelani Jenkins is one of the most intelligent linebackers in the draft. He is able to diagnose plays and shows extremely good football IQ on the field. Athletically, he's one of the best linebackers in the draft. He has great short-area quickness and has top-level speed for a linebacker. His all-around strength is right on par with most linebackers in this draft as well.
Intangibles, Character and Injuries
Jelani Jenkins has never been arrested, nor has he ever been suspended. While he may have never been elected to the role of team captain, he was a leader on and off the field for the Gators. He also is an honor student who was on the SEC Honor Roll his freshman and sophomore seasons.
He injured his thumb in his redshirt junior year and missed three games in a four game span after it. He also was banged up and missed the Vanderbilt game his redshirt sophomore year. Other than that, he's been able to play through injuries well.
In college, Jelani Jenkins was used primarily as an outside linebacker in the 4-3 scheme and as the nickel linebacker. His best role was in the mid-tier zones in pass coverage and filling his run fits against the run. He was rarely used as a pass-rusher, but when he was, he showed some effectiveness. Ideally, though, he should be used as an outside linebacker in a 4-3.
Pass Coverage (+)
Jenkins drops back almost seamlessly into zone coverages. He's able to read the quarterback's eyes well and gets good depth. He makes the plays on the ball that you want a linebacker to make and can cover at tight end well.
His ability to locate a ball in air has allowed him to snag multiple interceptions and even a punt block out of the air. He has a ton of potential to get even better in man coverage than he is. He just wasn't used in man very much. He sniffs out screens and flat passes effectively.
Pass Rush (-)
On blitzing schemes that use an open lane, Jenkins is very effective at creating pressure and using his excellent short-area athleticism to gain ground on the quarterback quickly. He does well versus mobile quarterbacks by keeping inside contain well on zone-read plays.
When trying to blitz and take on an interior lineman, he has a ton of trouble getting off the block, but still can work through it if coverage gives him time. On the outside, it's more of the same. So unless you have a clear lane for him to get through, his pass rushing is still a work in progress.
Against the Run (+ and -)
Jenkins diagnoses the plays effectively and meets blockers in the hole well. He plays with excellent pursuit at all times and takes great angles. He sometimes gets swallowed up on zone runs by guards. However, most of the time he has great run fits and will meet the back either at or behind the line.
He has a ton of experience sniffing out the runs vs. zone read plays and has shown proficiency in that regard. Ideally, he flows to the ball and has tackles that can take on the big bodied linemen. But if he has to work against linemen all day, he would have trouble.
Jelani Jenkins meets players one on one and wraps up well. He will get pushed back sometimes but overall has excellent form. He keeps his head up and sees what he hits. He also doesn't go for the huge hit or a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Even if he gets juked out of a straight on tackle, he is still able to get his hands on the player and slow them down so someone else can finish it. He has solid force in his tackles but he doesn't try to separate the player from the ball—which is a positive because he's a sure tackler instead of a big play guy who whiffs a lot.
Use of hands (-)
Jenkins is very raw here as a player. He seems to engage and then tied up too quickly. Work with a good linebackers coach will help him a ton here. As he sits now, he would have to learn a couple of unique ways to shed blocks.
Future Role and Scheme Versatility
In the NFL, Jelani Jenkins would be best used as a 4-3 outside linebacker on either the strong or the weak side. His only real weaknesses come from a lack of block-shedding technique. With the right coaches and strength training, he could be a special player at linebacker. While he could fit in the pass rush, it's not his strength and his fit in a 3-4 is almost non-existent.