|Janoris Jenkins impressed with a 4.46 40-yard-dash time at February's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.|
The most publicized problems Janoris Jenkins has had over the past four years came while he was at the University of Florida.
Yet, when it comes to the talented cornerback's NFL draft potential, it's the events following the troubled 23-year-old's departure from Gainesville that are likely to drive him out of the first round, according to a variety of executives, personnel directors and scouts across the league.
NFL executives and scouts were watching closely as Jenkins, one of the nation's best cover corners, migrated to Div. II North Alabama last year. His play was consistent with how he performed in three years as a Gator. But so were his off-field actions, which have included three arrests, positive drug tests, and four children with three women.
"It's not just his personal situation with the kids and different moms. This is a multiple offender of the drug policy in college, and it's not like there were no character concerns at North Alabama," said one AFC personnel executive. "He had multiple opportunities to get away from it. He didn't at Florida, and he went to North Alabama and he wasn't clean there.
"You just wish the situation at North Alabama was clean, that he had a rebirth, from a personal and football character standpoint. But it was more of the same."
Presented with the claims laid out by numerous NFL executives and scouts in this story, Jenkins' agent Malik Shareef provided a statement.
"Our talks with league GMs and scouts have been overwhelmingly positive," the agent said. "Most of these scouts believe that Janoris is the top cover corner in the draft and have been impressed with the way he has handled himself through the pre-draft process, from the Senior Bowl to the combine to team visits. He's been open and honest about his mistakes and has learned from them. He has demonstrated that he's fully dedicated to fulfilling his dreams of being a professional football player."
'Wouldn't touch him in the first round'
Executives agreed that he is talented and has been honest about his issues, though it continues to trouble them that the drug use, by Jenkins' own admission, wasn't curtailed after he was thrown off Florida's team by coach Will Muschamp.
The Florida program had problems with players testing positive in recent years, with Minnesota Vikings receiver Percy Harvin and New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez being prominent examples of ex-Gators plummeting on draft day as a result. It's the combination of issues, however, that puts Jenkins in a more serious category, possibly taking a player with top-half-of-the-first-round talent out of the first night of the draft altogether.
|Janoris Jenkins spent three seasons at Florida before leaving the school before his senior season. (Kim Klement/US Presswire)|
"He's running with the wrong people," an NFC personnel executive said. "They gave him every chance in the world at Florida, and it didn't work. … And he gets to North Alabama, and he's still smoking because he's got this big-fish, little-pond thing going. I don't see him going in the first round, and a lot of teams have him off their board completely."
One source drew a parallel to Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant. The former Oklahoma State star was ruled ineligible by the NCAA during his junior season for failing to properly disclose his relationship with ex-NFL player Deion Sanders. Other issues popped up during the draft process, and Bryant's stock plummeted from potential top-5 pick to nearly the end of the first round, where he was picked 24th by Dallas.
Both Bryant and Jenkins have undeniable football talent. And neither is painted as evil by evaluators. But taking a chance on Bryant in 2010 meant counting on change happening when there's no reason why the change shouldn't have already happened. One NFL team executive said it's the same with Jenkins.
"Football-wise, people like [Jenkins]. He loves football, he competes and he's tough," said a second NFC executive. "But he's an immature kid. You see a lot of problems. ... With Dez, the biggest issue was whether he was smart enough to figure out what he didn't know. That's when the NFL becomes too big for a kid, where maybe he's not a bad kid, but he's just not equipped to handle the rigors of being a pro athlete."
An AFC college scout made it simpler regarding Jenkins: "He's not a bad person. He just makes a lot of dumb, dumb mistakes. He just smokes and (has sex), and that's essentially what it is. … And there's just awful decision-making associated with that. I don't think he's a bad person. But he has a lot of soul-searching to do. I wouldn't touch him in the first round."
'He doesn't think it's a big deal'
Then, there's the issue of his representation. Jenkins' camp says he fired CAA, though according to sources, the decision was far from unilateral by the player. CAA spent extensive time working with Jenkins to prepare him for the process and, in the end, the split happened. One source said he couldn't remember CAA losing a single rookie client prior to the draft in recent years.
CAA's Ben Dogra declined comment on Jenkins when reached Thursday morning.
That Jenkins has been forthright about much of the above is a positive. According to sources with three clubs, the player admitted in pre-draft interviews that he continued his drug use at North Alabama. Jenkins also was open about his issues with the women in his life, explaining his relationships with his children's mothers.
While a significant number of NFL executives cast a skeptical eye toward the testing Jenkins went through last season, North Alabama assistant athletic director for communications Jeff Hodges said in an email the idea that the player wasn't tested while at the Div. II school was "incorrect." He declined to detail how often Jenkins was tested, but did provide a statement:
"In June of 2011, Janoris Jenkins signed a Zero Tolerance behavioral contract with the University of North Alabama Department of Athletics," the statement read. "This contract included, but was not limited to, the expectation regarding alcohol and drug-related incidents. The department conducts a random drug testing program and Janoris was included in that process. To the best of our knowledge, he met all the criteria of his contract. We cannot comment further on any specific testing due to HIPAA."
A request for a copy of the contract was declined, as was a request for more information on its specifics.
The testing isn't the issue in the minds of NFL decision-makers. After all, Jenkins has been open with them about his actions at North Alabama. They're aware that, even if he did pass the tests, his behavior didn't change.
"The problem is, at least my impression was, he doesn't see the error in his ways," said another AFC personnel director. "He came off like he doesn't see an issue with any of it. He doesn't think it's a big deal. And he thinks he's got it under control. … But Janoris' problems go far beyond the drug use. He's got four babies by three mamas, and he's not even in the league yet. That invites tons of problems and will make him a target when he gets into the league, too."
'He may be the best'
So where does this leave Jenkins? From a physical standpoint, he's tantalizing. And the fact that he possesses a premium skill, elite man-to-man coverage ability, likely will prevent the kind of free fall Hernandez experienced in 2010, a tumble that ended in the middle of the fourth round.
All of the executives, personnel men and scouts reached for this story said, from a strictly on-field standpoint, LSU's Morris Claiborne is the only player at the position they'd rank in front of Jenkins, whose size (5-foot-10, 193 pounds) seems to be his lone physical drawback.
"Physically, he may be the best," said another AFC college scout. "It's either him or Claiborne. But if someone takes him in the first round, I'm telling you right now, I'm gonna think it's a dumb move. … I wouldn't touch him in the first round under any circumstance."
Speculation holds that either Cincinnati or New England, both of whom have multiple first-round picks and a history of taking chances on players with character concerns, could be the team that takes Jenkins. The Rams are another logical landing spot -- Jenkins was in St. Louis on Monday, and the team has two high second-round picks and a coach in Jeff Fisher who's experienced in dealing with troubled young players.
Whoever gets Jenkins, of course, will be excited about the upside of a player with Pro Bowl potential.
But just as important, they'll have to be comfortable with the downside that's serious enough to have plenty of executives and scouts across the NFL crossing Jenkins off their list entirely.
Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer