South Florida's Mike Jenkins is one of the more highly regarded cornerbacks and kick returners in the NFL draft.
Sixth in a series
There's a good chance more than half the first-round picks in this year's draft will be juniors, justifying their decisions to leave school a year early for the big bucks of the NFL.
But South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins made what turned out to be a brilliant decision a year ago by returning to the Tampa school for his senior season.
He would have been drafted in 2007, but the NFL's advisory committee told him he projected as a fifth-round pick. A year later, he's in the first round of almost everybody's mock draft and, more important, he's in the first round of most teams' draft boards.
Instead of receiving a signing bonus in the thousands of dollars last year, Jenkins will get millions this year thanks to his patience.
Even though he is expected to become the highest-drafted player ever to come out of South Florida, Jenkins could be disappointed on draft day. There's no denying his physical talents, but the 5-foot-10, 197-pounder hasn't always displayed the work ethic or toughness that NFL teams love to see in their major investments.
Jenkins' athleticism has been compared to some of the top cornerbacks to play the game in recent years, including Deion Sanders.
Jenkins has the flash and the dash of "Prime Time." He has good size, has run below 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and shows big-play return ability, like when he took his first kickoff return of the season 100 yards for a touchdown against Cincinnati. But he hasn't proved enough to pull off the "Neon Deion" act yet.
Some scouts downgrade Jenkins for his attitude, which includes a reluctance to practice hard all the time and the expectation of preferential treatment.
"Jenkins is very physically gifted but will struggle to ever reach his potential because of work ethic and character flaws," one NFL scout said. "He has big-time boom-or-bust potential."
He has, however, impressed NFL talent evaluators such as Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, who witnessed Jenkins' pro day performance at the USF campus on March 7.
"Man, that kid is something else," Kiffin told the team's Web site. "He's a special guy. He's got great feet and great ball skills. You can see it. And he can help you on special teams, too. But you don't draft a guy in the first round for special teams. You're going to draft him to be a great corner."
Despite the knocks on his hot-and-cold effort, Jenkins has made other wise choices besides staying in school for his senior season. Even though he was recruited by big-time football schools such as Florida, Oregon, Nebraska and Clemson, he chose South Florida because he was needed at home in nearby Bradenton, Fla.
"My mother (Kathy Gray) was sick," Jenkins said. "She has diabetes. On my signing day, she actually went into the hospital. I was keeping my little brother (Ciyon, who was 6 at the time). It was only an hour from Bradenton to Tampa, so I could commute to take care of my brother."
Shortly after the draft, Jenkins will be able to take care of his mother and brother in style.
The New England Patriots hold the seventh overall pick in the draft, and it's doubtful they would select Jenkins that soon. But coach Bill Belichick was in Tampa on March 21 to evaluate Jenkins and the Bulls' other starting corner, Trae Williams, a second-day prospect. The Patriots need help there after losing pro Bowler Assante Samuel in free agency, and Jenkins has the skill set to step into a starting role as a rookie.
The top defensive backs
Name, school Size 40 time
D. Rodg.-Cromartie, Tennessee State 6-1½, 184 4.33 LeGere's skinny: Gifted Division I-AA cover corner/returner has shot up draft boards with phenomenal workouts and impressive Senior Bowl. Lacks toughness.
Leodis McKelvin, Troy 5-10¼, 190 4.38 Sticks to receivers like static cling, plays tough in run support, is an exceptional kick returner. Very coachable. Lacks great hands.
Aquib Talib, Kansas* 6-0¾, 202 4.45 Great size and instincts. Fine ball athlete with WR hands. Not a physical or consistent tackler and thinks highly of himself.
Mike Jenkins, South Florida 5-10¼, 197 4.40 Has physical tools to be a shut-down CB but has poor practice habits. Risky pick who needs an attitude adjustment.
Brandon Flowers, Virginia Tech 5-9¾, 189 4.55 Very willing and physical tackler and an excellent ball athlete who will be better off at S because he lacks speed and fluidity for CB.
Reggie Smith, Oklahoma* 6-0½, 199 4.55 Because of his size and willingness to hit, plus a lack of top speed and quickness, might be better off at S, but he has played CB.
Kenny Phillips, Miami* 6-2¼, 212 4.55
Has the size and toughness to play in the box and be a force vs. the run and also has good cover skills despite average speed.
DaJuan Morgan, North Carolina State* 6-01/8, 205 4.54 Big, strong, fluid, versatile athlete who has played all over secondary, but average speed projects to safety.
Patrick Lee, Auburn 6-0, 200 4.42 Excellent size-speed ratio. Has the cover skills to man up and toughness to support vs. the run. Started just 1 year and is raw.
Justin King, Penn State* 5-107/8, 192 4.31 Outstanding speed and quickness, great acceleration and ability to adjust to deep ball; lacks strength and isn't physical vs. the run.
* Junior in college