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Troubled but talented: Jenkins looks to prove he's worth the risk

INDIANAPOLIS -- He answered each question with a degree of candid honesty that's often praised at the NFL Scouting Combine, even if that praise almost always comes with a massive asterisk tagged to it.

So yes, at this critical juncture of cornerback Janoris Jenkins' football career, we can all agree on this much: On Sunday, during conversations with NFL teams and reporters, Jenkins was indeed honest.

"I admitted to everything," said Jenkins, referencing three arrests (two for marijuana possession) and a failed drug test. "I take full responsibility, and I learned from it."

While Jenkins' truths might keep him from deepening the hole he dug for himself over the last three years, dating back to his first arrest for fighting outside a Gainesville nightclub in June 2009, his best chances at improving his draft stock might be more a matter of proving he's the player -- not the person -- that he once was.

A serious talent during his days at Florida, Jenkins built his résumé by shutting down top talents like wide receivers Julio Jones and A.J. Green, illustrating his potential to compete with players who have since succeeded in the NFL. There have been moments that have made scouts drool, viewing him as the league's next Pro Bowl cornerback. But Jenkins isn't just facing questions about his character. There's also a wonder whether his ability has lacked the necessary improvement since those days to still qualify him as elite.

"He used have the grade of an elite [prospect], but he's not in that class anymore," said one AFC scout, wishing to remain anonymous. "He's second-tier now -- in addition to off-field issues."

That's not to say other teams agree -- nor is it to say Jenkins has come close to peaking as a player. Instead, it only continues to quantify the boom-or-bust nature of a controversial player who once would have been considered a no-brainer first-round pick.

Jenkins, at least, is not naïve to any of this. As it pertains to his ability, some say his unproductive senior season at North Alabama (he was kicked off Florida's team last April) might have simply been a matter of quarterbacks shying away from his side of the field. As it pertains to his mishaps, well, there's simply little excuse for that. Although all three arrests were for misdemeanors, and his toughest punishment was a $316 fine and court costs for a second marijuana possession arrest, the scrutiny of NFL teams often comes with a more subjective eye.

"I'm pretty sure it will hurt me," Jenkins said. "But I'm looking past that, looking forward to moving on and being successful from here on out."

Among the questions teams had for Jenkins, they wanted to know how he allowed himself to get arrested not once, but twice, for marijuana possession. Jenkins said he also failed one drug test while at Florida. While teams can often overlook a single transgression, the repeated nature of the issues creates the more pertinent questions.

Jenkins, who has four children to three mothers ranging in ages between three months and three years, said he's now more motivated than ever to find a way to provide for his children while overcoming the perceptions he has developed for himself.

"They see the talent," Jenkins said. "They just want to know what kind of kid I am. I came in here to show them I'm not a bad kid. I made a few mistakes and I learned from them. Everything I did, I did. I'm admitting it. I did it."

Jenkins said he has sworn off marijuana, noting he hasn't smoked since before his final incident at the University of Florida. But is that enough? It's one of the great questions teams must face nearly every year at this time. They see the potential talent. They are intrigued by the possibilities. Can they morph the player into an asset without constantly wondering whether he'll be a detriment?

Even as scouts wonder whether Jenkins is the player he once was during his prime at Florida (he started as a true freshman on the Gators' 2008 BCS National Championship team), he still might be one of the top three cornerback prospects in this draft. It is possible, if his ability warrants such, that Jenkins can endear himself to NFL teams, too.

"Is this an ingrained part of his character, or did he just do some stupid things?" said Brian Billick, an NFL Network analyst and former NFL head coach. "And if it's the latter, then yeah, you can be optimistic about the NFL and what's at stake for him."

Indeed, Jenkins is among the most intriguing storylines of the 2012 NFL Draft, the type who will linger in the minds of many general managers as a potential bargain if they feel like their organization can keep him on track.

"It made me a stronger person, taught me how to fight through reality," Jenkins said. "I've got to separate myself from certain guys, certain people. To be successful at the next level, I can't do the things I used to do."

Unless he's shutting down wide receivers.

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington

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