Jelani Jenkins played just nine games for the Miami Dolphins in 2016 because of a knee injury. It was a major disappointment for the former University of Florida standout who was taken in the fourth round by Miami in 2013.
But Jenkins, 25, is getting a fresh start with the Raiders after signing as a free agent, and could lock down a starting job at linebacker with his new team. Jenkins, a 6-foot, 243-pounder, was a productive starter in 2015 and 2014 in Miami. In 2015 he was in on 71 tackles after having his best season in 2014. That year he was in on 110 tackles, had 3½ sacks and two forced fumbles.
Going into 2016, the analytic website Pro Football Focus noted that Jenkins had a world of potential but was still searching for consistency.
“Jenkins has never been able to sustain his flashes of high-level play,” PFF wrote in its team outlook just before the season.
At Miami, Jenkins most often saw action at weak outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment that allowed him to often rush the passer. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded him in 2014 as the NFL’s 14th-best pass-rushing outside linebacker. That year, Jenkins became a force – after spending his rookie season playing mostly special teams – when injuries to others moved him into the starting lineup.
Now with the Raiders, Jenkins has a chance to get a re-start on his career after the injury-shortened 2016 season. With Malcolm Smith now gone through free agency, Jenkins is the leading candidate to start at weakside linebacker in Oakland. Upon signing with the Raiders, Jenkins told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group that one of his strengths is handling tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, a weakness on the Raiders the past couple of seasons.
“I’ve been on teams with a lot of great tight ends and running backs,” said Jenkins. “So I’ve had to cover them every day in practice. I think that helps.”
Now that he’s healthy again, too, he believes he’s ready to be a better player after his frustrating 2016 season in which he had to sit out almost half the schedule.
“I got a chance to learn my body more,” he told McDonald. “What it can take, what it can’t take, when it’s time to relax and when it’s time to keep going.”