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Malcolm Jenkins looks to build upon strong 2020 for New Orleans Saints defense

It was a quiet success, but Jenkins brought versatility to the Saints defense

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

One of the kindest things you can say about the Saints defense is that it has versatile, multi-faceted players. Of all of those players, a 2020 newcomer — with a familiar face — may have embodied that the best. Malcolm Jenkins was brought in to play alongside Marcus Williams in the defensive backfield. In doing so, he was a robber, a linebacker and a blitzer as well.

While the 33-year-old safety may not have achieved the Pro Bowl level play that got him signed from the Eagles, he didn’t have to. The Saints are built to not rely on a single defensive player, and Jenkins bought into that philosophy instantly. He lined up all over formations, and he did what was asked of him on any given play.

Where he found his home was as a robber underneath Williams, who played high safety. The middle of the field has long given Saints defenses headaches, and he was able to alleviate some of them. Jenkins played 586 snaps in coverage, putting the Saints among a grouping of teams able to have two safeties play over 500 snaps in coverage. Of those snaps, he played about 35 percent man, where he rotated down into the slot.

What makes Jenkins special for the Saints, however, is his ability to play anywhere on the field. He is a highly intelligent player, and he uses that intelligence to make plays. More than that, he knows when to let his teammates make plays, a highly underrated skill. While he may not be jumping routes as effectively now, he’s quarterbacking the defense and taking some pressure off of Demario Davis.

With a sparse secondary and a sparser linebacker corps, the Saints will once again lean heavily on Jenkins and C.J. Gardner-Johnson to help shore up the line. Both play well in the run game, and Jenkins could be a perfect coach for Gardner-Johnson moving forward this year.

Last season Jenkins logged 91 tackles and 2.5 sacks, not to mention seven tackles for a loss (his highest total since 2015). If he can keep up that production around the line of scrimmage, he’ll always have a home on the field in 2021 for a team that needs downhill players. On top of that, he tied his career-high last year with three interceptions.

A lot of of this production was unheralded last season, with a lot of the credit going to other players in the Saints secondary. If Jenkins can keep it up this season, it will be far harder not to take notice of the jack of all trades for the Saints next year.

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