Free-agent spotlight: S Malcolm Jenkins

The New Orleans Saints have 14 players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 11, including four full-time starters. Here’s a breakdown on safety Malcolm Jenkins:

Position: Starting safety

Age: 26

Height: 6-0

Weight: 204

Scouting report: Longtime readers of mine know that I have always been high on Jenkins’ potential as a dynamic playmaker. But he has never quite delivered on that potential on a consistent basis since being drafted with the 14th overall pick out of Ohio State in 2009. Each year, Jenkins seems to be good for one or two game-changing plays. But he hasn’t been consistent enough in his pass coverage or his tackling ability to ever make that leap to the next level. Jenkins, who began his career as a cornerback, is often described as a cornerback-safety tweener, who isn’t quite a perfect fit at either spot.

It looked like Jenkins might thrive last year in new coordinator Rob Ryan’s versatile scheme. Jenkins got off to a great start in a versatile role in deep coverage, slot coverage and occasionally blitzing. He tailed off a bit as the year went on, but he still wound up setting or matching career highs with 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. For his career, Jenkins has 4.5 sacks, six interceptions, six forced fumbles and 38 pass break-ups.

Jenkins is still just 26 years old, so there’s still a chance for that long-awaited breakthrough season to come. Plus, Jenkins is widely respected by coaches and teammates as a hard worker and film rat, who has been elected as a defensive captain each of the past two years.

Projection: Jenkins’ market value is tough to gauge, since teams will try to weigh his potential vs. his production. I think the Saints would bring him back at the right price, but there’s a good chance that another team will pay a little more to gamble on his upside. Maybe something in the range of $3 million per year or more would price him out of New Orleans’ plans?

The Saints could suddenly be thin at safety, since they also parted ways with longtime veteran Roman Harper this week. They’ve got a great building block in Kenny Vaccaro, who was one of the NFL’s top defensive rookies in 2013. And they like the potential of Rafael Bush, whom they’re expected to bring back as a restricted free agent. But they’ll want to add at least one more starting-caliber safety to the mix, especially since Ryan likes to use three safeties so often.