|Alshon Jeffery says Janoris Jenkins was the toughest corner he faced in college. (US Presswire)|
INDIANAPOLIS -- Janoris Jenkins has plenty to prove along his winding path to the NFL.
Many of the answers he must provide for the decision-makers of the 32 teams in the league before the draft will require his employer to invest more faith in Jenkins' words than they will dollars in his talent. His forthright media session, unabashedly recounting his misdeeds and recent talks with NFL teams, made Jenkins sound like a player grateful he still has a chance to cash in on his skills despite off-field ills.
"I think about my mom a lot," said Jenkins, "and my kids."
He has four children, including three boys, three years old and younger.
More than he wants NFL teams to hear his contrition and believe him when he says, "I'm done with [marijuana] forever, I can't do it," he wants Janoris Jenkins Jr. to be proud of his father and his name.
Recognized as one of the premier talents at cornerback along with two All-SEC juniors, Morris Claiborne of LSU and Alabama's Dre' Kirkpatrick, Jenkins' past has him on shaky footing with general managers and coaches placing a premium on "football character."
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"We talked to Janoris at the Senior Bowl and plan to talk to some other guys here who've had some off-the-field situations," said Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. "We evaluate those [players] on an individual basis. The key thing is to go into it with an open mind. We just go into it, have a conversation with them about their past and about their future. Really, that's what's really important -- is what the future is."
Mayhew said the no-holds-barred Jenkins was "an impressive young man."
Jenkins had been a high-profile peer in the nation's preeminent conference until first-year Florida coach Will Muschamp kicked him off the team days before the 2011 NFL Draft. Jenkins was arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges, his second drug-related arrest in three months and third in 23 months, and Muschamp sent him packing.
In May 2009, he was arrested and Tasered by police who couldn't break up a fight involving five other people. In January 2011 he was arrested when police caught him rolling a joint in a bathroom stall at a Gainesville nightclub.
After a meeting, Muschamp said he and Jenkins agreed it was in the player's best interests "to move ahead."
Instead of playing in front of 95,000 fans at home games in Florida, Jenkins said he often watched the Gators on Saturdays because he was playing on Thursday nights in Division II.
Jenkins would have likely been in the 2011 draft in which another SEC cornerback, LSU junior Patrick Peterson, was drafted fifth overall by the Arizona Cardinals, but he needed reconstructive shoulder surgery and opted not to enter the supplemental draft as Terrelle Pryor did to escape Ohio State.
Instead, Jenkins started over in the Gulf South Conference, enrolling at Division II North Alabama to play under Terry Bowden, the former Auburn coach who said he thoroughly investigated Jenkins' transgressions and felt the Parade high school All-American and second-team All-American at Florida was worthy of a mulligan.
"I talked to everybody I could possibly talk to at Florida, from Urban Meyer to Will Muschamp to [athletic director] Jeremy Foley," Bowden said in June. "They all said he is a guy who made a mistake. But it does not represent his character or time at Florida."
He wasn't a model citizen at North Alabama.
Jenkins was ejected from an Oct. 13 game against Delta State for throwing a punch before North Alabama lost 30-24 in overtime.
For a player trying to straddle the straight and narrow and repair a dinged character, it was another letdown. Ten NFL scouts were in attendance.
Jenkins said he's grateful for a second chance, but teams might overlook his talent because of his hefty baggage.
"I'm pretty sure it will hurt me," he said.
It's an accomplishment that after a failed drug test, multiple arrests and being bounced from Florida, Jenkins is being given an NFL leg to stand on.
But the game film Jenkins produced, including head-to-head battles with 2011 first-round picks A.J. Green -- the best receiver Jenkins has faced, he said -- and Julio Jones and possible 2012 first-rounder Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina, proves he has NFL ability. He's projected as a first-round pick. He held Green and Jones to an average of less than 40 yards per game in head-to-head competition.
"Janoris Jenkins when he was at Florida," said Jeffery of the best cornerback he has played. "He's a great defensive back. He's a physical player. Talked a lot of trash, but definitely great competition."
If Jenkins can convince the NFL his biggest battles are behind him, he has a chance to win the one he now says matters most to him -- being a better son and father than he is football player.