Versatility at its Finest: The Return of Malcolm Jenkins

The Homecoming Interview

On March 11, 2014, free-agent defensive back Malcolm Jenkins signed a 3-year, $15.5 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. This was the Eagles’ first big move at patching up the glaring hole at safety that had been plaguing the team since the release of 9x Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins back in 2008.

Unlike Brian Dawkins, Malcolm Jenkins was not the hard-hitting, earth-shaking, body-leveling free safety that Dawkins once was. Instead, Jenkins was able to do something that Dawkins couldn’t, rotate between both safety positions as well as play cornerback.

“I was taught early in my NFL career that the more you can do the longer you will be around,” says Jenkins. “My experience of playing corner in college has given me a great foundation of fundamentals to allow me to play the nickel position. Versatility defines my entire career.”

Malcolm was born in East Orange, NJ, but grew up and went to school in Piscataway Township, roughly 30 miles south off the Garden State Parkway. He began his football life at age 7, and by his parents’ accounts, he was already a pro.

“Malcolm started [playing] football when he was 7 years old and he’s definitely been a standout and a leader on the field, in the locker room and off the field,” says mother Gwendolyn Jenkins. “From Pop Warner and through high school there are a number of milestones and transition points that my husband and I, as well as his coaches, noticed about his increasing capabilities as an athlete.”

In high school, Malcolm has a stellar career in both sports and academics. He had played safety, cornerback, and wide receiver for the football team, won the state title for the 400-meter in track, and was inducted into the National Honor Society.

In 2005, Malcolm was considered to be a three-star recruit and was listed as the No. 61 cornerback prospect in the United States. After graduation, he decided to take his talents to The Ohio State University.

Under head coach, Jim Tressel, Malcolm had started out primarily in the slot, nickelback position. After his freshmen year, he had moved to outside cornerback; and in 2007, Malcolm was named a first team All-American, but the idea of going pro wasn’t initially on his mind.

“I didn’t believe I was an NFL caliber player until my sophomore year in college,” said Malcolm. “I got to witness some of the upperclassmen enter the NFL draft. Donte Whitner (safety) was a top ten pick and Ashton [Youboty] (corner) was a 3rd rounder. I figured if I worked hard enough I could fall somewhere in the middle of that. Before then dreams of the NFL seemed a lofty unattainable goal. I was more concerned about being the best player I could be.”

In his senior year, Malcolm had won the Jim Thorp Award, an accolade given to the best defensive back in the country, and in 2009, the New Orleans Saints drafted Malcolm with the 14th overall pick.

“He had worked hard and we knew that he would be selected high and would go where God needed him to be,” said Gwen Jenkins recollecting on the day of her son being drafted into the NFL. “Rather than having only a few of our family being able to participate in the draft day ceremony in New York, we shared that experience with family, friends, coaches and others.”

“On draft day I was with about 200 family members and friends. I was excited about the draft but never had much concern about when my name would get called. I wanted to enjoy the moment, realizing that my dreams were coming true regardless of what team called my name,” said Malcolm. “While everyone celebrated and screamed I remember having an overwhelming feeling that all my work had really just begun!”

Casted off by scouts and sports analysts as too slow to play corner in the National Football League, many projected him to transition into a safety in the NFL. Regardless, Malcolm and the New Orleans Saints, in his rookie season, had defeated Peyton Manning’s Colts in Super Bowl 44.

“Winning the Super Bowl was crazy,” Malcolm said. “I just remember going into the game as a rookie where Peyton Manning was the opposing quarterback. He looked me dead in the eye and you could tell that he was trying to figure me out, and if he wanted to throw to the guy I’m covering. Those first three plays I was super nervous. But once I made my first tackle it was ok. It seemed like a normal game after that but I do remember those first three plays and looking at Manning and having that moment when I realized, ‘I am in the Super Bowl.’ After we won my parents got to come down to the field. There was confetti flying everywhere. It was just a phenomenal time.”

Since that time, the Saints have not returned to the Super Bowl, and in that time they had released their 2009 1st round draft pick through free agency.

During that time, Chip Kelly had one full season of being the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles under his belt, and after losing to New Orleans in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, he knew he needed both a talented, versatile defensive back as well as a leader for the secondary. In the first and final game of the 2013 Eagles post-season, he knew exactly who he wanted.

“I have a versatility they needed in that I can play in the box, cover receivers or in the middle of the field. They were also looking for a player to quarterback the secondary,” says Malcolm. “My versatility gives Chip Kelly and [Defensive Coordinator] Bill Davis the freedom and flexibility to put me wherever I’m needed because I can play multiple positions. I’m not your typical safety. I’m that hybrid that the league is moving toward now.”

Even though the 2014 NFL season is not yet over, Malcolm Jenkins has helped the Philadelphia Eagles secondary tremendously this year. Last season, the Eagles were ranked 32nd in pass defense, this season they are ranked 27th, ironically, that is the same number Malcolm Jenkins wears, #27. Now jumping up only five spots may not seem like much, but Malcolm is the only new starting defensive back on the Eagles roster playing for all three downs. He has only been in Bill Davis’s defensive scheme for less than a full season and has put a substantial amount of effort into Philly’s secondary.

“[He’s] calmed things down on the back end, fewer busted coverage’s, better coverage in the middle,” said Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News when asked how Malcolm’s leadership and versatility has helped the 2014 Eagles.

His leadership and versatility was also a contributor to his success off the football field. It was a vision he had, and a goal that was much grander than the gridiron.

Starting in New Orleans, Malcolm decided that he wanted to create a foundation that would help the youth in underprivileged areas; by providing resources, innovative opportunities, and experiences that will help them succeed in life and become contributing members of their community. With the help of his family and friends, he had created The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation. The organization now has locations in New Orleans, Ohio, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, and the person that he selected to be the foundation’s president is none other than his mom.

“Malcolm selecting me to be the day-to-day leader of The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation is a very proud moment for me. It’s a big responsibility and he felt no one else could fulfill that position because I understood his vision and [knew] where that inspiration for his commitment comes from,” said Gwen.

Another perk of playing for the Philadelphia Eagles is not only expanding the foundation to more kids across America, but also that his home games now are only 70 miles away from his hometown in Piscataway Township, New Jersey.

“Malcolm hasn’t been based this close to home since high school and we are thrilled to have him closer to home,” says Gwen. “More of our family and friends can enjoy seeing him play live, and that’s a gift and a blessing. It’s really a joy having our family together to support him and his family.”

Malcolm Jenkins truly is a one-of-a-kind. He has won outstanding awards and accolades through out his high school, collegiate, and professional career. He has made huge impacts in leadership both on and off the field. He is a roll model and leader to many. He is versatile as well as smart. He is a class act to any one who approaches him, and he is also a damn good football player.

Montclair State | New Jersey

Alexander Hand

Alex Hand is a Communications Major at Montclair State University.