Last year during San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke’s annual film breakdown with the local media, Baalke talked about his draft strategy and how he wanted to find the right character guys for the team. Not only did each player that he drafted need to be great physical athletes on the field, but also have great attitudes without any major red flags.
With that line of thinking, it doesn’t seem like Northern Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins would fit into Baalke’s criteria. Despite all the great physical attributes, his off-field issues have hurt his draft stock significantly.
Jenkins was cut from the University of Florida’s team last year after numerous failed drug tests. Also, Jenkins has four children from three women. Considered one of the top cornerbacks in the draft, his baggage is a big red flag.
All of this was a major concern for Jenkins himself and he has since tried to make things right. During the NFL Combine, he fielded questions about his off-field issues and claimed that he was clean from marijuana usage and wants to do things right.
“The marijuana was just a college thing. I was being a college student and I wasn’t the only athlete who was smoking,” said Jenkins. “As soon as I got the second arrest, I quit. I knew this could affect my future.”
Jenkins is still 23 years old and finding out the hardships of life outside of football. Not only is he trying to walk away from his past drug usage but now he has to find a way to support all four of his children.
This surely isn’t the type of person that would fit Baalke’s criteria for his draft picks. But would the 49ers make an exception if Jenkins were available at the 30th pick? Or if Jenkins drops even more, a trade up in the second round?
One of the positions the 49ers need to add depth to is their cornerback position. They know that starter Carlos Rogers is getting up there in age and eventually the team would like to transition Chris Culliver into a bigger role. But the team could still use a cornerback they can groom for the future.
That’s where Jenkins comes in. After Morris Claiborne, there is a debate as to who is the next best cornerback available. Some mock drafts have Stephon Gilmore going up while Dre Kirkpatrick is falling down on boards. Jenkins might be somewhere in between those two. But the off-field issues still remain a concern.
Jenkins fits into what the 49ers are looking for. The cornerback has great footwork and has a good eye for the ball. His size might not be all that great but his coverage is impressive. During the NFL Combine, Jenkins was one of a handful of cornerbacks that really made an impression.
And if there was one team that could handle Jenkins and his baggage, it would be the 49ers. Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh are two men that don’t want any nonsense on their team. And maybe that alone will tell them that Jenkins won’t fit into it. But with such a talent potentially available, the 49ers might want to take a risk on Jenkins.
With the 49ers, the team will mold Jenkins into a model athlete and person. At least with the locker room chemistry, Jenkins would be surrounded by good character guys that Baalke brought to the team. But that’s only if the 49ers want to take that risk.
That’s the issue when it comes the draft for every team. How much of a risk are they willing to take in a balance of talent versus baggage? At least for the 49ers, they have to be considering Jenkins if he does become available.
For the 49ers, it’s a test to see how much they believe in their ability to mold a young prospect into a responsible man. For Jenkins, it’s a test to see how he will follow in his promise to be a mature adult. But would Baalke even seriously consider him?
It’s a big risk for both sides if the 49ers do draft Jenkins. It may or may not work out and that’s what the draft is all about. Baalke and the rest of the coaching staff will have to figure out if Jenkins could fit into his locker room of high character guys. It’s something the 49ers will have to think about if Jenkins is available when the 49ers are on the clock.