My e-mails, texts and tweets this week were full of variety, ranging from “who the hell is Jelani Jenkins” to “should I pick up Jelani Jenkins” to “should I start Jelani Jenkins over Player X.”
It seems everyone wants to talk about the linebacker from the Miami Dolphins who put up an incredible stat line against the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday afternoon: 11 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble.
So, let’s set about answering the question, “who the hell is Jelani Jenkins?”
Jenkins is a 6’0”, 245-pound, 22-year-old former Florida Gator. In college, he redshirted his first year under Urban Meyer, and the following two years he posted almost identical statistics: 76 total tackles, two sacks and one interception in 2010; 75 total tackles, 2 sacks and 1 interception in 2011.
He was also a track star in high school and is a karate black belt.
He was taken by the Dolphins in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL draft – 104th overall – with the idea he could play special teams and perhaps eventually contribute as an outside linebacker. That day has arrived.
The Dolphins began the 2014 campaign with Dannell Ellerbe as weakside linebacker, with Jenkins backing him up. But Ellerbe went down with a hip injury in week one, leading to Jenkins’ opportunity. He’s made the most of it, posting 5 tackles in week one in relief of Ellerbe, and 9 tackles and 5 assists in week two against the Buffalo Bills in his first start. Of course, in week three, Jenkins broke out.
Teammates have described Jenkins as smart and always around the ball. A look at Pro Football Focus premium statistics shows that Jenkins isn’t just a fantasy star and mediocre football player. Jenkins graded at plus-4.7 overall, which is the second highest grade given by PFF to 4-3 outside linebackers, second only to Von Miller. He had a positive 3.1 grade in against the run. In 188 snaps, he’s made 25 solo tackles and only missed two.
Before we crown Jenkins the next Navorro Bowman or Luke Kuechly, let’s put Jenkins’ performances into perspective. In weeks two and three, he played against two teams that love to pound the rock, Buffalo and Kansas City. The Dolphins rank 20th in the league against the run, according to NFL.com, and Jenkins hasn’t always been stellar in coverage. Week 4’s matchup against Oakland might produce more gaudy numbers for Jenkins, but the Dolphins face Green Bay and Chicago after the team’s week five bye. That will be a true test for Jenkins’ upside.
The bottom line is this: Jenkins definitely has the athletic ability and the opportunity to post very good (at least LB2) numbers going forward. But it remains to be seen how well he’ll fare against teams that prefer to throw the ball rather than run it. If he proves himself in weeks five and six and improves his coverage, Ellerbe might be looking for another job soon and Jenkins could be a waiver wire steal in dynasty leagues. But for now, enjoy the ride in 2014, be cautious with his matchups, and get him in your lineups against run-heavy teams.
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