The first day of the new NFL league year began with ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting that the New York Giants were in agreement with free-agent cornerback Janoris Jenkins on a five-year, $62.5 million contract. Jenkins will replace fellow free agent Prince Amukamara as a starting Giants cornerback alongside Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. To look at what the Giants can expect to get from their big new investment, I spoke with ESPN's Matt Bowen, himself a former NFL defensive back. His opinion is that Jenkins will make things exciting.
Graziano: The Giants are giving Janoris Jenkins a whopper of a contract in free agency. What do you think they see in him?
Bowen: With Jenkins, the Giants see a cornerback with natural coverage skills, closing speed and playmaking ability. Jenkins can play off-man, walk up in press and has the speed to match the vertical passing game. Plus, with his ball skills, the Giants get a cornerback who can flip the field, create scoring position and change the course of the game when he finishes plays. This is an aggressive cornerback who isn’t afraid to challenge (or even sit) on routes. He is going to drive on the throw.
Graziano: All sounds great. But, while you say "aggressive," the word I hear most often about Jenkins is that he "gambles" too much in coverage, and that has been a drawback for him in the past. Do you see too much of that when you watch him?
Bowen: Jenkins is the classic high risk/high reward cornerback. He is going to jump routes and make plays, but that also opens up the door for opponents to game plan his style with double-moves or multiple breaking routes. This is where we see the negative on Jenkins. At times, he lacks eye discipline and will get caught playing with poor technique (footwork). Because of that, I don’t feel Jenkins has reached his ceiling yet at the position. Is he going to make big plays for the Giants? No doubt. But is he also going to get caught with his eyes in the backfield in certain situations? Yes. And that’s the trade-off for New York.
Graziano: One of the things the Giants liked about last year’s CB tandem was the contrasting styles between Rodgers-Cromartie and Amukamara. They felt they could play sides with them because, if the opponent moved its top receiver around, they would be giving him a different look every time he switched. One of my initial concerns here is whether DRC and Jenkins are too similar in style. Do you agree with that concern or think it matters?
Bowen: That’s a fair point, but there is nothing better than cornerbacks who can challenge opposing receivers in man-coverage situations. That means more pressure from the Giants and the ability to play specific matchups based on the opponent scouting report. Even with two similar skill sets, the Giants will set their game plan to maximize the talent of both Jenkins and DRC. Play man, roll to Cover 2 and allow these cornerbacks to get up on wide receivers. Start dictating outside of the numbers. To do that, you need two cornerbacks, like Jenkins and DRC, who have the skill set to impact the release of wide receivers.
Graziano: I feel like this is an obvious question, but does that make it even more important that the Giants shore up the free safety position, not to mention the pass-rush? Is a DRC/Jenkins combo the kind of cornerback duo that can shut down a passing game on its own, or do they need to have strong support on the back end in order to play the way they want to play?
Bowen: Rush and coverage is a two-way street. No cornerback, regardless of skill set or speed, is going to lock guys down on every single play. That’s fantasy world. The Giants must continue to upgrade the front four pass rush (especially in nickel situations) through free agency and the draft. You want Jenkins and DRC to make big pays? Then force the ball to come out. Let them jump the slant or take away the fade. Plus, the free safety is vital to any man-coverage defense. The Giants need that angel over the top of the defense, the gatekeeper in the post to allow both Jenkins and DRC to funnel receivers to the middle of the field and also to "save" them when they get over-aggressive (which they will). Still a lot of work to do in New York to upgrade this defense. Adding Jenkins, a young cornerback in his prime years, is a start. But no one is going to cover consistently for six or seven seconds while the quarterback sits in the pocket.
Graziano: The Giants are just getting started in free agency, with a lot of work still left to do. Thanks, Matt!