Vontae Davis is a physical cornerback with lock-down ability. He has excellent footwork, fluid hips and the tenacious attitude to deliver a devastating hit. He’s strong at the point of attack, aggressive throughout routes and has success against small and tall receivers. He has a great sense of timing, possesses a quick burst and flashes great ball skills that turn defense into offense instantly. He’s also a standout on special teams in the return game and on the coverage unit. Although he’s improved his overall play this season, Davis hasn’t anticipated the action as well as he did last season and has only one interception this year. He has to challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage consistently and not give up too much of a cushion and allow receivers to beat him inside.
Malcolm Jenkins has outstanding size, cover skills and speed that make him one of the nation’s elite defenders. He has quick feet, fluid hips and has the ability to blanket most receivers he lines up against. He anticipates the action extremely well and uses his quick burst to disrupt a play. He possesses great ball skills and demonstrates game changing ability on defense. As great of a playmaker as Jenkins is, he has to play physical on a consistent basis and improve against the run. He tends to play off receivers and doesn’t consistently jam the opposition at the line of scrimmage.
HEAD 2 HEAD:
It was around this time last year when Illinois went into Columbus and upset the No. 1 ranked Buckeyes, 28 – 21; handing them their only loss of the season and putting their National Championship hopes in jeopardy. Even though Ohio State went on to the National Championship game to face LSU (and lost), the fact that Illinois ruined a potentially perfect season will be on the mind of many of the players who participated in last year’s game. There are a lot of factors to discuss in this contest and some great players who will display their skills, but the most attention will be directed towards Davis and Jenkins.
They’re the top two cornerbacks in the country; one being a junior and the other a senior.
Davis has a favorable matchup against Brian Robiskie this week. Robiskie isn’t the same receiver with Terrelle Pryor behind center as he was with Todd Boeckman. Pryor doesn’t throw the deep ball accurately, and Robiskie has been primarily a possession receiver averaging just 10.8 YPC, after a 17 YPC 2007 campaign. Davis’ ability to lock down receivers, transition well through routes and keep the action in front of him (41 solo tackles; 64 total), should frustrate Robiskie and result into a big day for the Illini star.
On the flip side, Jenkins has a much more leveled matchup this weekend, as he battles one of the best young receivers in the nation, Arrelious Benn. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, Benn is a physical receiver who has strong hands and excellent body control that has led to him to 60 catches for 947 yards and three touchdowns thus far. Jenkins also has great size at 6-foot, 205 pounds and will have to jam Benn at the line and not allow him to dictate his routes, instead making him uncomfortable when the ball is snapped. When Jenkins challenges receivers with his physical play, he creates turnovers; Jenkins has 47 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles and a sack this season.
MATCHING UP WITH MALCOLM:
CS: After losing to Illinois last season - a game the Buckeyes entered undefeated and were potentially on the way to a perfect season – how huge is this game for you personally?
Jenkins: This is a huge game, because as seniors this is our second to last game, and it’s our last away game of the regular season. We all remember what happened last year with them beating us on our senior day and how our seniors felt after that loss; the guys who played in that game still have that bad taste in their mouths. It’s going to be a huge game. A lot of people in the media have asked us how hard is it going to be to get up for this game; is it just another November game? No, because this game has been circled on our calendar for over a year now. We’re getting ready for it.
CS: This is a game that fans and scouts are anticipating, as it features you and another highly touted cornerback, Vontae Davis. You guys play the game the same way; how do you think you compare with Davis?
Jenkins: I think we both possess great size and we’re both physical; to move as fast as we do and to play the run as well as we do, we have qualities that a lot of corners don’t have. But we can also cover just as well as anyone else. I think that’s something we bring to the table and that’s what makes us so unique.
CS: Not only do you resemble each other on the field, but you also have similar measurements.
Jenkins: We both play in the Big Ten; that’s how you have to be. You have to be physical, stop the run and be able to cover as well as anyone. We do have a lot of similar qualities, but I guess we’ll see who has the most on Saturday.
CS: Do you have any more motivation for this game knowing that Vontae is on the other side and you may be competing for draft positioning come next April?
Jenkins: I honestly haven’t thought much about it in the sense that me and Vontae are competing and showing who’s better. I’m just going to go out and play the best game that I can. I have a lot of respect for Vontae; we know each other and we’ve spoken a few times. I know he’s going to play great, and hopefully I can play great. I try not to focus on matching up with something I have no control over. If I was going up against Vontae [one-on-one], then I would think more about it. But since I’m not going up against him, I have no part in how he plays.
CS: But you do have a say in how Arrelious Benn performs on Saturday. He’s one of the best receivers in the country, and Illinois finds mismatches that favor him. If he rolls out to your side and you’re matched up on him, how do you defend him?
Jenkins: He’s usually in the slot and is mostly going to be up against safeties and linebackers. But if he does line up outside, I’ll be ready. He’s big, he’s physical and he’s fast; you just have to get your hands on him and try to run with him. The worst thing you can do is play off of him and let him get a running start, because he’s big enough where he can just run you over. I think you just have to match his physicality, and at the same time he’s really fast, so you have to be careful.
CS: How do you think the wide receivers on your squad, namely Brian Robiskie, will fair against Davis?
Jenkins: I think Brian [Robiskie] is physical enough to match Vontae’s physicality; it’s going to be a battle back and forth. I don’t see our receivers dominating Vontae, because like you said, he’s one of the best in the nation. But I do have confidence that our receivers will be able to get something done. It’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out.
It’s getting late in the season, and NFL scouts are flocking in every direction to find the missing piece to their championship puzzle. That missing piece is usually in the form of a playmaker: quarterback, running back, wide receiver, defensive end or cornerback. The 2008 rookie class has been dominant on the offensive side of the ball, while the 2009 draft class is all about defense, and scouts from the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, St. Louis Rams, New England Patriots and New York Giants will be in attendance to watch Davis and Jenkins showcase their skills.
At this point, the Rams (2-7) have the most realistic chance to land Davis or Jenkins. Jenkins is a lock to be a top-10 selection, and if Davis declares for the draft, he will be selected in the top-15. The Rams have a lot of problems on offense and defense, but their pass defense (237.6 YPG), which is currently ranked 26th in the league, has only managed six interceptions and could use Davis or Jenkins’ presence.If the draft was schedule for this weekend, the Cardinals (6-3), Colts (5-4), Patriots (6-3) and Giants (8-1) would not hold a pick in the top-15. The Panthers don’t have a selection in the first round next year; they traded the selection to the Philadelphia Eagles this past April for the Eagles 2008 first round pick that landed them offensive tackle Jeff Otah.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.