The Jenkins Effect: Veteran DBs' positive impact on the Saints Defense
The Saints added veteran leadership to a young and talented defensive backfield with the additions of CB Janoris Jenkins and S Malcolm Jenkins.
The New Orleans Saints secondary has taken major strides towards becoming a game-changing group after three consecutive disappointing seasons between 2014-2016. Over those three years, New Orleans ranked in the bottom seven in the NFL in passing yards allowed, passing TDs allowed, and interceptions. Since 2017, the Saints have seen drastic improvement ranking 21st in passing yards allowed, 18th in passing TDs allowed, and 11th in interceptions.
Though the secondary has seen improvement in play since drafting CB Marshon Lattimore and FS Marcus Williams in 2017, a "Super Bowl or Bust" season is on the horizon. The Saints need their young secondary to make the jump to becoming one of the league’s best. Recognizing the need to bolster the defensive backfield, the Saints brought in two veteran DBs to help lead the young and talented group.
Enter the Jenkins'. Malcolm and Janoris. Two veterans primed to provide leadership to the Saints defensive-backfield in 2020.
New Orleans claimed CB Janoris Jenkins off of waivers before Week 16 vs. Tennessee. The Saints brought in “The JackRabbit” to challenge CB Eli Apple after his inconsistent play throughout the second half of the 2019 season. The 2016 Pro-Bowler immediately showed his value as the CB opposite of Marshon Lattimore, starting the regular season's final two games. His stellar play extended into the playoffs. In the Saints Wild Card loss to the Vikings, Jenkins forced a fumble and recorded half a sack.
Following the 2019 season, the Saints restructured Jenkins’ contract. At the same time, CB Eli Apple signed with the NFC South rival Carolina Panthers. The pair of moves solidified “Jackrabbit’s” role as the Saints starting #2 CB. The addition of Janoris Jenkins will be an upgrade from Apple and allow New Orleans to enhance their coverage ability. Per Pro Football Focus, Jenkins’ grade in coverage (69.3) was over 10 points greater than Apple’s (59.1) last season.
Saints DC Dennis Allen praised Jenkins prior to 2020. Allen stated that Jenkins excels at both man-to-man and zone coverage, which is something he feels has been missing opposite Lattimore in the past. This attribute will allow the Saints to be versatile and disguise defensive coverages in the upcoming year.
“When you have Marshon Lattimore and you’ve got Janoris Jenkins you want those guys being able to play press man and be able to do what they do best. I could see us getting back and doing a lot of that stuff.”
The Saints continued adding veteran talent to the defense's backend, signing another DB with the last name of Jenkins during the first week of free agency. Saints HC Sean Payton repeatedly said that letting Safety Malcolm Jenkins leave New Orleans in 2014 was his “worst mistake” as the team’s HC. Payton righted his wrongs in 2020. The two-time Super Bowl champion returned to New Orleans on a 4-year, $36M deal.
New Orleans signed Jenkins to replace fellow Ohio State Buckeyes S Vonn Bell during the offseason. Bell, a 2016 second-round pick, specializes as a box safety providing run support. Last season, he posted the second-highest Pro Football Focus run defense grade among safeties (89.4). However, Bell struggled in pass defense in 2019, posting a grade of 52.1.
Near the line of scrimmage, Bell's unique ability makes him a valuable asset to any NFL franchise. The Saints have a knack for finding true tackling safeties. However, as current DBs Marcus Williams and Chauncey Gardner Johnson ranked in the top ten safeties in the run defense category in 2019.
Though Malcolm Jenkins’ run support defense is not superior to Bell, the CB turned Safety has proven to be better against the pass in his NFL career. Over the past three years, Jenkins averaged a coverage grade of 74.5. Given that the Saints’ struggles in pass defense, Jenkins is a perfect fit to bolster and mentor a young group on the back end.
“He’s one of those guys that can problem solve. Especially when you have two young guys out there in the backend. He can get guys to line it up and he can fix it. He can get you in a position where you can just get it done”
With the Saints adding two veterans with the last name “Jenkins” on the back of their jersey, the secondary will undoubtedly improve against the pass, solve communication issues, and continue their dominance against the run. These upgrades will allow the rest of the Saints defense to flourish, which should help the Saints catapult into a top ten defense, something they haven’t done since the 2013 NFL season.
Saints News Network article written by Brendan Boylan and Intern, Andrew Gullotta. Andrew hosts The Who Dat Discussion.
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