Jordan Jenkins returns to lead relentless pass rush of Georgia Bulldogs

HOOVER, Ala. -- Forty games under his belt and a wealth of talent weren't enough to take Jordan Jenkins away from Athens.

Before his junior season even spilled into the month of October, the elite pass-rusher and future early-round draft pick decided he'd return to Georgia for a fourth year. With every reason to assess and reassess that decision during the coming weeks, no one would have blamed Jenkins for at least flirting with the NFL. But when his draft grade came back, he gave it to his parents, refusing to look.

His 15 sacks, 29.5 tackles for loss and 70 quarterback hurries over three seasons couldn't pry him away from his Bulldogs career. Spending four years at Georgia simply meant too much to Jenkins.

“It’s priceless," Jenkins said. "I had to come back – I wanted to. I never once thought that I was going to leave early.”

It's also a chance for Jenkins to develop even more. There's no question Jenkins would have been take in April's NFL draft, but he didn't think he was NFL-ready.

As part of a terrifyingly talented linebacker group, Jenkins is the unquestioned leader of the unit, but he's also arguably the most technically sound pass-rusher. That's saying a lot when you consider the fact athletic freak Leonard Floyd and nasty newcomer Lorenzo Carter make up two-thirds of an elite pass-rushing trio, subtly named the "Wolfpack." Jenkins might not have the ceiling those two have, but his on-field instincts and pure knowledge for the game are hard to challenge.

Jenkins is more than proven and has plenty of burn marks from his time in the fire, but he wanted to make sure he's sound in all phases of the game. He wants his talent to mirror his intelligence.

“He knew that he could improve and he knew that he was getting coached well and he wanted to be as ready as possible when that day came," coach Mark Richt said of Jenkins. "He knew the NFL wasn’t going anywhere.

“He’s coming back with the mindset of, 'I’m going to be even better than I’ve ever been.'”

Like any player, Jenkins has had to deal with the growing pains of playing SEC football. He burst on the scene with five sacks in six starts as a freshman in 2012 and an astounding 23 quarterback hurries as a reserve. As a full-time starter a year later, he recorded five sacks, again, had 12 tackles for loss, and added 23 more pressures. Five more sacks and 24 hurries came Jenkins' way in 2014, and now the senior brings a wealth of experience to a defense that has the potential to be lethal this fall.

Jenkins, who plans to play at around 256 pounds this fall, can play each one of Georgia's linebacker spots, and will line up with his hand in the dirt at defensive end at times, too. He's the perfect weapon for Jeremy Pruitt's defense, and his versatility allows Pruitt to get Floyd and Carter on the field with him at the same time.

“It’s not fair, but they’re on my team so I’ll take it," said offensive tackle John Theus, who has had many in-practice skirmishes with Jenkins. “I feel bad for the opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks that have to go against him in this league.”

And with that elite linebacker corps by his side, Jenkins won't have to put a lot of the defensive burden on his back. Having those guys around him will only help his game and make him more dangerous.

“The talent between all of us is ridiculous," Jenkins said. "The sky’s the limit for us if we learn to capitalize on it because you can have all the talent in the world and still lose every Saturday. This season, we have to capitalize on our abilities and be as dominant as we need to be 100 percent of the time.

“We intend to impose our will on quarterbacks and get them to recognize that we’re here and we’re here to stay and we’re coming for you every chance we get so you better get rid of the ball.”