All-22: Jenkins Looking Like a Perfect Fit
Back in March, there were bigger names on the free agent market, but the Eagles insisted Malcolm Jenkins was the top safety on their board, ahead of guys like Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward, both of whom played their college ball at Oregon.
Some (including yours truly) questioned the decision. Given the franchise’s track record in evaluating safeties over the years, it was fair to wonder whether Jenkins would just add to a long list of guys who were unable to adequately fill the void on the back end of the defense.
But four games in, the opposite appears to be true. Jenkins has three interceptions in his last three games and has shown the versatility that Chip Kelly and other team officials raved about back in the spring.
“We’ve said since day one, his ability to do everything – he can play in the box, he can cover receivers,” Kelly said, when asked about Jenkins as a scheme fit. “He was drafted as a cornerback coming out of college, but he also has the ability to play in the middle of the field. He’s been an unbelievable guy around this building in terms of his preparation, in terms of the amount of time he puts in from film study and understanding the game itself. I think he just fits.
“We’re not a team that wants to have one guy who’s a down safety, one guy who’s a high safety. You have to be able to do both, and I think his ability to do all those different things – to cover in man‑to‑man situations, to play in the box and to also play high, really adds to where he is. His interceptions have come in different spots. One of them, when he was a high safety in the Redskins game in the middle of the field, [he] did a great job of reading the quarterback’s eyes and broke on the ball. The other time, he was in man coverage, passed it off to the inside player in man coverage and then came back and covered the number two. I think it’s his versatility that really attracted us to him right from the get‑go.”
Sunday’s game against the 49ers was a good example of that versatility. Here’s a first-quarter play where Jenkins lines up over TE Vernon Davis.
The Eagles have eight in the box against seven 49ers blockers, so Jenkins is left untouched.
He diagnoses the run, attacks the ball-carrier and makes the tackle after a short gain.
Run support is one of the three things the Eagles want from their safeties. They also want them to be able to play man coverage and be center fielders.
Here’s a play from Week 3 against Washington. Jenkins is again lined up across the tight end. This time, though, it’s a pass play.
He is big and physical enough to jam tight ends at the line of scrimmage, which he does here to Niles Paul.
Jenkins throws off the timing of the play and breaks up the pass when it arrives.
According to Football Outsiders, the Eagles are sixth in the NFL this year at covering opposing tight ends, allowing just 34.9 yards per game. Last year, they ranked 24th, allowing 60.5 yards per game. Jenkins has been part of the difference in the early going.
Against San Francisco, Brandon Boykin suffered a hamstring injury on a special teams play. Jenkins has been practicing as the second-team nickel, and so he was called on to fill that role.
Here’s a play where he’s lined up over the slot.
The 49ers used motion and ended up stacking the two wide receivers to that side. Jenkins had to make a call to Cary Williams, indicating how they’d handle coverage responsibilities. Jenkins ended up on the outside guy.
Colin Kaepernick wanted to go that way, but Jenkins had it covered. The result was an incompletion and a punt.
Jenkins’ interception Sunday also came on a play where he was in man coverage on the slot. Fran Duffy of PhiladelphiaEagles.com has a good breakdown up of that play.
“He’s a quarterback of our defense, a highly intelligent football player and a willing tackler,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “He can cover a slot receiver man-to-man. He went down and played the nickel when Boykin was hurt and did a great job of it.”
Asked if Jenkins has been even better than the Eagles expected, Davis said: “He has been, I’ll say yes to that. We were expecting a lot from him. We really liked what we saw on tape. He wasn’t everyone’s pick, but he definitely was our No. 1 guy that we were going after for what he fit and how he fit us, and he’s lived up and beyond our expectations.”
The last role Jenkins fills is as the high safety.
This is Cover 1, a coverage the Eagles’ offense has faced often in the past two seasons. It’s man coverage across the board with just one safety deep.
Here, Kirk Cousins looks for the tight end down the seam and makes a poor throw.
But Jenkins reads the quarterback, breaks on the ball, shows good range and finishes.
Jenkins is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions through four games. That number is also a career high.
The Eagles knew they needed safety help in the offseason. They identified Jenkins as a scheme fit and signed him. So far, the move is looking like a home run.