Why the Atlanta Falcons Should Pursue Safety Malcolm Jenkins

Murf BaldwinContributor IFebruary 27, 2014

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 21:  Free safety Malcolm Jenkins #27 of the New Orleans Saints breaks up a pass intended for tight end Tony Gonzalez #88 of the Atlanta Falcons during a game at the Georgia Dome on November 21, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

According to ESPN's Adam Caplan (h/t to profootballtalk.com), Atlanta Falcons free safety Thomas DeCoud is expected to be released before his contract becomes fully guaranteed on March 15. One has to believe his release is contingent upon the brass being able to adequately replace him in free agency.

It's hard to imagine Atlanta jettisoning him with hopes of landing one of the top safeties in draft—as that's just not a sure thing. Many fans are excited at the prospects of possibly landing Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills) or even Louis Delmas (Detroit Lions)—who is available right now to be signed and is coming off a visit with the New Orleans Saints per Larry Holder of Nola.com.

By many accounts—including this article by NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal—Byrd is expected to be hit with the franchise tag while Delmas' history of knee problems makes him an extreme gamble. While both signings would generate fan fervor off of name value, Atlanta targeting Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins makes more football sense than any decision the Falcons could potentially make—in regard to the safety position. 

Coming out of Ohio State University, Jenkins was considered to potentially be one of the best corners in recent memory. Some likened him to a young Charles Woodson (Green Bay Packers fame) at the time. At 6'0", 204 pounds, Jenkins was a two-time All-American and a winner of the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back his senior season. 

Jenkins was considered to be a physical corner with great ball skills. He was thought to be a match for teams that employ a Cover 2 scheme as his short-area prowess was the strength of his game.

With the Saints selecting him (14th overall) to initially play corner in coordinator Gregg Williams' multifaceted, Cover 2/Cover 4-based scheme, Jenkins seemed to go to the perfect team.

He also went to a team that had two pretty good corners in front of him in veteran Jabari Greer and eventual Super Bowl hero Tracy Porter. It wasn't until Week 11 of his rookie season that Jenkins was afforded the chance to start after the pair was injured.  

Jenkins had an up-and-down stint in his time starting, flashing a lot of the same skills that made him a college star. Now while it was speculated that Jenkins would eventually move to safety at one point in his career, the move was escalated due to star free safety Darren Sharper being placed on the PUP list in Jenkins' second season. 

Jenkins' career stats

Jenkins' initial success at the position solidified that his time at corner, at least under Williams, was over. And after Sharper's subsequent retirement following the 2010 season, the job was officially Jenkins'. 

After a subpar season as the undoubted starter in 2011, which coincided with Williams' last season in New Orleans, Jenkins followed it up with possibly an even worse season under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo—and his conservative defense. By then he was labeled as a bust in the eyes of many Saints fans. 

That is until he got a chance to play for coordinator Rob Ryan and his multi-scheme attack this past season. 

Ryan normally employs a three-safety set that allows one of the safeties to essentially play the role of "disruptive nickel corner." This player has to cover tight ends, slot receivers and blitz—which is similar to the duties Falcons coordinator Mike Nolan gives to his free safeties. 

Credit: NFL Rewind

Here is Jenkins playing corner against a receiver running a 6-route.   

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins did an excellent job staying light on his feet, while squaring up and providing himself the opportunity for a two-way go. Often times defensive backs will panic and anchor down out of their pedal. This usually causes them to take a false step, putting them further behind the route.

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins has always been smooth in and out of his breaks. Here he stuck his foot in the ground at the exact time the receiver did. Jenkins usually plays with great balance as he stays low in stance. This aspect is the basis of having a solid short game.

Credit: NFL Rewind

The receiver got too far out over his skis and Jenkins didn't do him any favors by giving him a forearm shiver.    

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins ran the route for him and finished the play with an interception. The ability to make plays is what Atlanta needs in its secondary henceforth. There's not very many safeties teams can trust on an island with receivers; Jenkins is one of the few.

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins, not pictured in the above frame, can also cover the mistakes of aggressive corners. In this frame, the corner bit on a stutter-and-go route by the receiver. 

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins is very decisive in his play. Once he decides where the play is going he sticks his foot in the ground and aggressively attacks the play. His long speed may be questionable, but he is money with his quickness in the short game.  

Credit: NFL Rewind

Ninety-six yards later Jenkins had himself a pick-six. When he does get his hands on the ball, his return skills are not to be ignored. In his six interceptions, Jenkins has totaled 209 return yards with two touchdowns. 

When a defense is as aggressive as the Falcons', playmakers are needed on the back end. But playmakers are also needed to affect the game at, or around, the line of scrimmage. 

Credit: NFL Rewind

Here we see Jenkins playing the "free-rusher." This means he has free reign to use his instincts to make a play.  

Credit: NFL Rewind

Credit: NFL Rewind

Jenkins' playmaking ability was really on display in Ryan's defense. As a deep safety, Jenkins has a propensity for taking bad angles. But as a nickel safety he is able to utilize his corner skills and short-area prowess to his advantage.

The Falcons defense is interchangeable with how it deploys its safeties.    

Credit: NFL Rewind

Credit: NFL Rewind

Credit: NFL Rewind

As you can see, DeCoud's responsibilities went beyond playing the normal free safety role. As the defense evolved under Nolan he was forced to play all over the formation—which didn't make use of his strengths. DeCoud would be a good player on a team with more zone concepts as he would be allowed to let the play come to him.

The Falcons need a safety who will force the action; Jenkins is that player. Saints fans can't get over the two seasons when Jenkins was learning the traditional safety role, so his resurgence last season is being met with a bit of skepticism.  

The Saints also drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro with the 15th pick who is a complete fan favorite—as most fans are enamored with anything, or anyone, who is new.

Jenkins is familiar with the division and would be highly motivated to stick it to the Saints twice a year.

His addition would be a win-win situation for Atlanta. It's time for Atlanta to acquire pieces that are scheme specific. It doesn't get any more specific at the safety position than Jenkins.

After covering the rival New Orleans Saints for the 2013-14 season, Atlanta native Murf Baldwin will now cover his hometown team in 2014-15. Follow Murf on Twitter and welcome him home.