Janoris Jenkins was the recipient of the Special Teams Player of the Week award following the Week 2 game against the New Orleans Saints. While the New York Giants should be appreciative of his 65-yard touchdown return off a blocked field goal -- their only touchdown of the game -- Jenkins’ defense is what the team paid big money for in the offseason. It’s only been two games, but so far the Giants have gotten what they paid for.
Jenkins is just a piece of the revamped secondary that has only two returning starters from 2015, but he’s been the standout to this point. He was always going to be, one way or another, really. He was either going to play well or he was going to stand out because his was performing below the lofty expectations placed on him. For now, the Giants should be happy with their new No. 1 cornerback.
During the opening game of the season against the Dallas Cowboys, Jenkins spent much of his time shadowing Dez Bryant. Against the Saints in Week 2, Jenkins did not have a specific receiver assignment and spent time across from Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas and even Brandon Coleman, who was in on 34 percent of New Orleans’ offensive snaps during Week 2. None of those receivers, though, were able to get an advantage over Jenkins.
Per charting data by Sports Info Solutions from Football Outsiders, there have been 38 cornerbacks who have been targeted at least 10 times through the season’s first two games. Among them, Jenkins is tied with Denver’s Aqib Talib with the fewest yards per pass allowed at just 3.3. Jenkins, though, has a better Success Rate than Talib on those passes -- 73 percent to 67. Football Outsiders notes Success Rate as the percentage of plays with this player listed in coverage where the offense is unable to gain either 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third or fourth down.
It’s not ideal that Jenkins has been targeted that often in just two games -- he’s the only Giants corner to be thrown at 10 or more times -- but when he’s moving around to cover the opposition’s top target, most teams aren’t going to avoid that receiver just because a player like Jenkins is in coverage. But so far Jenkins hasn’t let big plays happen against him.
This is a stark contrast from last season with the Rams when Jenkins allowed 8.8 yards per pass in coverage, which ranked 54th among cornerbacks, and had a Success Rate of just 47 percent, which ranked 61st.
One of Jenkins’ best attributes is his athleticism and throughout his career, having that skill allowed Jenkins to skill have value while he was still learning the correct technique at the position. The athleticism has already shown up for the Giants.
Take this play against the Saints from this past Sunday. Jenkins lines up on Michael Thomas once the receiver motions across the formation. Jenkins is positioned off the line, expecting Thomas to go deep. Thomas starts up then field, then cuts for a deep crossing route and gets leverage on Jenkins, but the corner uses some good recovery speed and is able to get a hand in to deflect the pass away.
In his time with the Rams, Jenkins was a playmaker, but he was also a gambler. For every route he jumped and caused an interception, there was a double-move that got behind him for a big play the other way. This, of course, was the knock against him when he signed in the offseason. So far that has not been an issue and Jenkins has been a patient and intelligent cornerback.
On this play against Terence Williams in Week 1, Jenkins again lines up well off the line of scrimmage across from the receiver. Williams starts to make a move -- along with a pump fake from Dak Prescott -- and Jenkins slightly bites, but he’s back far enough that he stays in good coverage and helps force and underthrown ball after Williams turns up the field.
These were the types of plays that bit Jenkins in the past. Here’s a play from last season in Week 2 against Washington, who the Giants will play on Sunday. Jenkins and fellow cornerback Trumaine Johnson across from Pierre Garcon and Ryan Grant. Garcon steps back for a possible screen off the line and Johnson stays with him. Grant, who is running downfield becomes Jenkins’ responsibility. Jenkins bites on a fake that was never really there and Grant is able to get behind him. If not for an underthrown pass from Kirk Cousins -- a recurring theme in 2016, too -- this could have been a touchdown. Instead, it was a gain of 35.
Later in the game, there was another deep pass to Grant that fell just out of his reach with Jenkins in pretty good coverage. Grant saw so many deep targets and was on the field often -- 61 percent of Washington’s offensive snaps -- because he was playing the DeSean Jackson role with Jackson out with a hamstring injury. Those two teams even played each other the year before, but Jackson missed that game with a bruised fibula.
If Jackson is healthy enough to go on Sunday -- he was limited in practice on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday but plans to play -- he will likely draw Jenkins in coverage on most plays. Jenkins, of course, is not one to shy away from speaking his mind and claimed Jackson is nothing more than a deep guy. Said Jenkins, “I don't see no digs, or dig returns, nothing like that. Just stay on top of the route."
Jackson is known best for his speed and he’s gotten by just fine with that skill to date. Jenkins has also excelled with the plays he’s able to keep in front of him. So far this season he’s yet to miss a tackle on his 10 attempts, though last season he did have a broken tackle on 14.1 percent of his attempts last season.
If Jenkins can keep Jackson in front of him for most of the game, he has a good chance of succeeding. This is going to be the biggest test so far of the discipline Jenkins has shown so far this season. If this is a trait that can be sustained and not just an early season flash, Jenkins won’t just be able to handle Jackson and the rest of Washington’s receivers, he’ll be the star every Giants fan has been hoping for.