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Could Janoris Jenkins be the CB2 Saints fans have been waiting for?

Can Janoris Jenkins break the wheel of mediocrity at the CB2 position?

Wild Card Round - Minnesota Vikings v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

While still with the New York Giants, Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins once said in an interview, “In the back end, you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”

Well, in recent years, that weak link for the Saints has often been found at the second cornerback position. After finally finding a true No. 1 corner in Marshon Lattimore in the 2017 draft, guys like Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams and Eli Apple have attempted to play his counterpart. And at times, they did so adequately.

However, they could never do so consistently enough to keep the job long-term.

Jenkins is here to change that pattern.

The nine-year veteran has been a starter basically his entire career, including time as a bona fide No. 1 corner in The Big Apple. In his time matching up with opposing teams’ best wide receivers, he usually thrived.

In nearly four full seasons with the Giants, Jenkins picked off 12 passes and broke up a whopping 32, per PFF. Over that span, he ranks fourth in picks and T-15th in PBUs among corners.

After a spat with the Giants front office, following an error in judgement that caused Jenkins to call someone an inappropriate word on Twitter, he was waived. Then the Saints came calling, and he joined the Who Dat Nation.

In the short sample size we saw from him, he showed real value. The former Florida Gator broke up two passes, picked off one and allowed a stingy 8.8 yards per catch in his three games as a Saint, including holding Stefon Diggs to three catches for 19 yards in the Wild Card Round.

This was enough for the Saints front office to offer the soon-to-be 32 year old a two-year, $16.75 million extension, keeping him signed through 2022.

While the output was encouraging towards the end of the 2019 season, there is sure to be speculation on how much he has left in the tank and whether or not he can carry that level of play into next season. But based on secondary coach Aaron Glenn’s comments in a recent video call, we have reason to be believe there is a plan for the proven vet to fit right into Dennis Allen’s defensive scheme.

“He came in as one of the better corners in this league and he was a really good press corner early in his career and made a lot of plays on the ball,” Glenn said. “As his career started to develop and he started to have this knack for being an off corner and being able to anticipate and see the quarterback and be able to make plays on the ball. But that didn’t take away his ability to play press coverage. That’s one of the things that we really need to tap into.”

These were super enlightening and telling comments by the very successful defensive backs coach.

Jackrabbit’s ability to effectively press wide-outs could be huge for the defense. Re-routing receivers not only disrupts timing and rhythm within an offense, but it provides more time for the pass-rush to get home, if done correctly.

His strength, low center of gravity, agility and hip-fluidity allow him to be sticky in press coverage, while also being able to break on passes and make plays.

Here’s an example from 2016, probably his best season:

Even if he’s not necessarily jabbing the receiver at the line, being able to stay in his hip pocket, while mirroring his every move, undoubtedly messes with he and the passer’s timing. Making it a tough window to throw into.

This is something Eli Apple struggled with at times due to his lack of turn-and-run agility, despite his good size (6-1 - 203 lbs). Though Jenkins isn’t the biggest guy at 5-10, 190 lbs, his aggressiveness and quicks make him a much better press corner.

And we all know Marshon Lattimore is capable of locking guys down from a press alignment. So, having two corners who can disrupt timing in the passing game, while also having the speed to mirror closely allows for more flexibility from a defensive play-caller’s perspective.

The one area where this came back to bite Jenkins was when he lined up against big wideouts. Not just from a press alignment, but in general, he showed deficiencies when matching up with good-sized, athletic receivers.

For example — his game in Week 3 of 2019 against the Buccaneers. Jenkins was matched up with Mike Evans for pretty much the entire game and got absolutely obliterated.

He allowed seven catches for 176 yards and three TDs when singled up against Evans. This was the highest yardage total he’s given up in his entire career, and his PFF coverage grade of 27.6 was his lowest game-grade since 2013. Yikes.

Evans was using his size to his advantage all game. He beat Jenkins on an inside dig, while in a press alignment, on the first drive. So later on in the drive Jenkins backed off and played with inside leverage, resulting in this fade TD.

After this, Evans baited Jenkins into thinking he was running a fade and got inside leverage for another TD.

On the final drive of the game, Jenkins said “screw it,” and tried to physically press Evans with no safety help. Boom, 44 yard gain on a vertical route.

It was just one game, but it was indicative of a possible weakness that Jenkins possesses in maintaining leverage against big targets. The good news is Aaron Glenn has a plan on how to counteract this too.

“We also look at the skill-sets of the receivers we’re going against to see how they matchup well against each other. Janoris being a smaller stature than Marshon, sometimes you want to have Marshon on the bigger receiver, and put him (Janoris) on the small receiver.”

This was exemplified by the Wild Card game against the Vikings in January, when Glenn matched Lattimore on the bigger Adam Thielen and Jenkins on Diggs. Diggs is a much more shifty and elusive receiver who Jenkins can stick with, without having to worry as much about being big-boy’d at the catch point.

This philosophy worked then, and I would look for it to pay dividends next season, given he and Lattimore maintain a similar level of play.

Glenn and the defensive coaching staff probably haven’t had this potent a combination of talent, versatility and experience in the secondary since arriving in The Big Easy. He and Dennis Allen seem to have a good idea of how to deploy them, and considering the improvement we’ve seen from the defense in the Allen era, they deserve the benefit of the doubt.

We’re already blessed to not have to worry about the Saints defense imploding on a game-by-game basis as we did in 2014-2016 knowing that, at the very least, a competent and experienced defense will be trotting on the field week in and week out. However, if Jenkins lives up to his billing, it could take the defense to the next level from a coverage perspective, distancing us Saints fans even further from the traumatic memories of defensive ineptitude and closer to excellence.

If a defense is really as strong as its weakest link, Jenkins can make this defense pretty damn strong by being a viable CB2.

Do you think Janoris Jenkins is the CB2 the Saints needed? Let us know in the comments. Make sure you follow Canal Street Chronicles on Twitter at @SaintsCSC, “Like” us on Facebook at Canal Street Chronicles, and make sure you’re subscribed to our new YouTube channel. As always, you can follow me on Twitter @andy_b_123.