Jenkins hails from the state of Maryland, is just like Arthur Brown, and is considered one of the nation's top linebackers. The Irish missed out on Brown last season but hope to have more success this go-round with Jenkins.
The last recruiting cycle brought the Irish three highly ranked linebackers in Darius Fleming, Steven Filer, and Anthony McDonald to go along with David Posluszny. Fleming, Filer, and McDonald are all big players with good athletic ability. Jenkins is a different breed of player. Jenkins isn't a very big linebacker. He's listed at 6'1 and a shade over 200 pounds. His frame is solid and should allow him to put on enough weight and strength to play inside in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense. When it comes to his body type I feel Jenkins compares favorably to current Irish captain Maurice Crum.
But what makes Jenkins special is his absolutely phenomenal speed. Jenkins has tremendous range as a linebacker. He uses his speed to fly sideline-to-sideline as well as to be explosive in short areas. His speed is so good that even when he makes mistakes on his reads or reactions he quickly makes up ground and still makes the play. Jenkins also has very good foot quickness to combine with his pure speed. This allows him to get going quickly as well as adjust in short time. His fluid hips and good balance allow him to use his speed moving forward, sideways, backwards, or changing directions.
Jenkins game is more than just pure speed, which is why I believe he is as highly ranked as a prospect. The Good Counsel star is also a very tough and aggressive football player. He plays with power and a toughness you don't often expect to find in a 200-pound linebacker. Jenkins has a nasty attitude and likes to punish ball carriers. Speed players are often able to gain a lot of momentum on longer runs and hit people hard. But Jenkins is also able to deliver strong blows without getting a head of steam as well as hitting in the hole.
As he translates into college, Jenkins will obviously need to gain weight and strength. He will need upper body and lower body work in order to take on college linemen and running backs. But the frame and natural ability are there so he projects very well to the next level.
As I mentioned earlier, I didn't expect to see the kind of power from Jenkins that he displayed on film. He's not just powerful for a smaller guy, he's just powerful period. Jenkins does a good job getting low on ball carriers, maintaining a good base, and then he will just explode through ball carriers. He also wraps up well and squares up ball carriers well. When in pursuit Jenkins takes a good inside-out angle to ball carriers and doesn't over-commit when flowing against the run. At times Jenkins will get a bit out of control in space but for the most part he is a solid tackler in space.
There is one area I'd like to see some improvement in the tackling department. When Jenkins fills a hole and has to make a tackle at the line of scrimmage, he has a tendency to stop his legs once he makes solid contact. Against bigger players this will be an issue. I'd like to see him continue to drive through ball carriers in the hole like he does in space and when he makes plays in the backfield.
Jenkins also shows good instincts overall as a linebacker in the run game. He does a good job recognizing run or pass and flows to the football very well. He also is good at recognizing and reacting to misdirection plays. This is an area in his game where I feel Jenkins could use the most work and improvement. His instincts aren't bad, that's not what I'm saying at all. But I do feel that Jenkins at times is a bit slow to react to what he is seeing. I see him picking up the play but he doesn't commit to it soon enough all the time. Fortunately for him his speed is such that is doesn't hurt him. Once he gets going he chews up so much ground that within just a couple of steps he is right where he needs to be. In college he'll need to be more natural in his reactions. His recognition and reactions will need to be one act. This is something that will come with coaching and more experience.
Overall, Jenkins plays the game with good technique. As a tackler, which we discussed earlier, Jenkins plays with good leverage and wraps up well. In the run game he does a very good job sifting through traffic and hunting down ball carriers. As I mentioned earlier, he doesn't over-commit in the run game and he takes on blocks with good technique. I like how he keeps his arms extended on blockers, even if he is losing ground. This allows him to shed quickly and make the tackle. He uses his hands well and knows when to just run through a guy instead of trying to take him on. As a college player he will need to develop more strength and size to hold his ground against blockers. He will also need to learn how to anchor against hard charging fullbacks and uncovered linemen.
While he doesn't execute at a high level in the pass game at this point there is a lot of potential for Jenkins in this regard. His issues are more technical than anything. As a zone defender Jenkins will need work. He obviously has the quickness, speed, and instincts to be very effective in the zone. But at this point in his career he doesn't show the technique or understanding of the zone to be as effective as he will need to be in college. At this point Jenkins doesn't get much depth in the pass game and leaves zones open behind him. With his speed and tackling ability in space he would be better off getting too deep if he is going to be in error. This way things stay in front of him, he can react to the throw, and can close on the receiver. As he matures as a player and continues to get coached, I believe Jenkins will be a very solid zone cover player.
Jenkins uses his speed and athleticism to cover man-to-man, which is an area of strength for him. He'll be faster than almost every tight end he'll face and just as fast as most backs. With his quick feet and fluid hips he shouldn't have a problem coverage in space. Overall Jenkins shows great range and instincts in coverage. He will just need some technique and recognition work in order to excel in college. One thing I did see with Jenkins was his ability to sniff out screens well and break on the football.
The secret weapon in Jelani Jenkins arsenal is his ability as a pass rusher. Obviously he will be able to use his great speed to wreak havoc off the edge. But there is more to his ability as a pass rusher than speed off the edge. Jenkins speed allows him also to be a very effective blitzer coming inside or from distance. He will be very hard for guards to pick up when he times the snap well, which he does often. Jenkins also does a good job disguising his blitzes from distance and doesn't give away his intentions. He uses his speed and athleticism to find holes, readjust if he needs to, and fly through open creases in the protection. In this regard his thinner frame serves him well.
As he does in the run game, Jenkins shows a tremendous motor as a pass rusher. He won't stop hunting after the quarterback until he has made the sack or forced him into the hands of another defender.
The Good Counsel star is much different from previous Irish linebacker recruits. Like Posluszny, Jenkins doesn't possess great natural size or a frame to add massive amounts of size and weight. But Jenkins is a true sideline-to-sideline player. Outside of his size there isn't a weakness in his game. He can slam the run, cover defenders one on one, he can rush the passer, and has to athleticism to become an effective zone player with coaching. Jenkins has the potential to be a star in college.
Many have questioned whether or not Jenkins can play in the 3-4 at Notre Dame. When I saw his listed size I had the same questions. After watching his film I have no doubt Jenkins could play inside at Notre Dame. What he lacks in size he makes up for in power, speed, agility, effort, and instincts. But his speed would also give the Irish coaches, if fortunate enough to land him, a big time weapon as a pass rusher. The Irish coaches could get very creative in where, when, and how they would blitz Jenkins. Wherever he ends up you can bet that this young man is going to be fun to watch as a college linebacker.