While not the most high profile member of the New York Jets defense, Jordan Jenkins has steadily improved throughout his time in the NFL. The young outside linebacker is beginning to show signs of greatness in his sophomore season.
With a New York Jets defense brimming with exuberant, promising young players, one individual is beginning to show his true potential and prove that his name should be brought up when discussing the future of the Jets defensive unit.
It’s not the star-studded safety duo of rookies Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, although they’ve played excellent so far in their young careers. It’s not Pro Bowler Leonard Williams who despite having a slow season statistically has established himself as one of the most promising young defensive ends in the league today. It’s not even second-year linebacker Darron Lee who in spite of his various struggles has shown flashes of brilliance. No, these should all be household names to Jets fans by now.
Instead, the man who’s promptly added his name to the above list as a building block for this young Jets defense is none other than Jordan Jenkins.
The 2016 third-round draft pick has been often overlooked and seldom appreciated but his recent string of solid performances culminating with his recent AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors have shed some light on the neglected piece of the Jets future.
During this past year’s draft, the Jets decided to double down by drafting two safeties in the first two rounds with the hope that these players would be future staples of the team’s defense for years to come. The move has been held in high regard as both of these players, the aforementioned Adams and Maye, have started their careers off on the right track and look to be well on their way to becoming exactly what the Jets had hoped they would become.
Many forget, however, that the Jets had deployed this same strategy just one year prior. The Jets used two of their first three draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft to select linebackers Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins. Much like Adams and Maye, the two were starters for much of their rookie seasons and have each held down that starting gig for their tenure in New York thus far.
However, the linebacker duo has had their fair share of ups and downs and the pair have yet to fulfill the expectations assigned to them. That being said, the development of Lee has been one of the bright spots of the season to this point and the team hopes his recent string of superb outings can continue.
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But what about Jenkins?
One storyline of the year that may have been overlooked by many Jets fans has been the maturation of the former Georgia Bulldog. Playing at the outside linebacker position, many of Jenkins’ mistakes aren’t as prevalent as Lee’s. Rather it’s a sheer lack of presence that becomes noticeable when Jenkins isn’t playing up to par.
There is not one area of his game that Jenkins excels at. He is solid against the run, good at setting the edge, and is coming along as a pass rusher. For this reason, it can be hard for the young linebacker to stand out.
The part of his game where Jenkins shines the most, however, is likely in his ability to set the edge. Jenkins has done a great job of making sure he’s in the appropriate position to control the direction of the ball carrier and make sure he stays inside.
His overall run defense has improved substantially during his time as a professional as well. His pursuit has been excellent as he appears to be moving a step or two quicker than last year and it has begun to show.
Apart from his hustle, Jenkins has displayed his raw power more than ever before this year opting for a stronger approach rather than a finesse method of penetrating into the backfield. Jenkins is playing with a new edge to his game this season due in part to the teachings of new outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene.
Greene is a former NFL outside linebacker who played 15 seasons and amassed 160 career sacks. Add in his five Pro Bowl appearances, three First-Team All-Pro honors, and 1996 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and it’s clear that the coach knows a thing or two about playing outside linebacker. Did I mention he’s also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Under the tutelage of Greene, Jenkins has learned to embrace a vile, meaner version of himself. Alex Squadron of the New York Post quoted Jenkins saying this about his new mindset.
“I’m hunting more this year than I was in the past. … In order to play outside backer, you got to be mean, you got to be nasty, you got to be dominant out there. That’s the mentality we all carry.”
That sounds like a quote straight from the mouth of a man regarded as one of the meanest, nastiest players to ever play the game. Luckily that man just so happens to be the Jets outside linebackers coach.
Greene has helped Jenkins to work on the part of his game that perhaps need the most improvement: pass rushing. The younger linebacker has done his part to improve in this area watching countless hours of tape (particularly of Greene) and absorbing the advice and expertise of his coach.
Before his time with the Jets, Jenkins was never taught specifically how to rush the quarterback. Per Darryl Slater of NJ.com, Jenkins insists that Greene was the first coach to truly teach him how to pass rush.
“I was never really shown, or I never really learned how to pass rush, until K.G. We had coaches [at Georgia] who would always tell you, but they didn’t really get into a level where we understood, at least speaking for me. I never really had a pass rushing coach.”
This likely explains the state of the young linebacker’s skillset at this point in his career. Many outside linebackers (or college defensive ends) are taught to pass rush at the collegiate level. Georgia’s defense didn’t really ask Jenkins to do much pass rushing thus he never was able to develop that area of his game. The Jets are hoping that under the guidance of a pass rushing legend like Kevin Greene, Jenkins will begin to produce more as an edge rusher.
If his Week 9 performance against the Buffalo Bills is any indication, Jenkins could be poised for a big second half of the season in terms of sack production. The 23-year-old got to the quarterback twice after only registering two and a half total sacks his rookie season. Adding a pass rush move or two would only further establish Jenkins as a solid piece of this bright, young defense the Jets are constructing.
Long an afterthought, Jenkins is finally proving that he has every right to be mentioned alongside the Williams’ and the Adams’ of this youthful defensive unit. Continuous steady progress like this will only further establish his name as a member of the Jets future.
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He’s not as flashy as Williams, he’s not as vocal as Adams, but it’s about time to start appreciating the well-rounded development of the forgotten piece of this Jets defense.
It’s about time to start appreciating Jordan Jenkins.