But if you had to choose a defensive MVP for the Saints today, he’d be a good candidate.
Last season, Jenkins had one interception and didn’t register a sack or an interception. This year he already has been responsible for three turnovers – an interception and two forced fumbles recovered by teammates – and he has a sack to his credit, a huge one against Chicago on Sunday that led to a Saints fumble recovery and field goal.
Too, he administered the clean stick on Bears tight end Martellus Bennett that flipped Bennett head over heels and forced the tight end to the sideline for a few plays, to get his bearings.
Bennett returned to the game later. Jenkins never left and isn’t often likely to be on the sideline this season, given the way he has taken to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan’s defense.
“We’ve talked about turnovers for a long time around here,” said Jenkins, who has 21 tackles and two passes defensed this year. “It’s something we preach in practice. But it’s also about putting your players in position to create them and I think that’s where the scheme comes in.
“When it all comes together, you get turnovers and guys are taking advantage of the opportunities that have come. I’m not the only one forcing turnovers. (Chicago) was the only game where we’ve only gotten one and that’s pretty good. Obviously, a big improvement from where we were.”
As a team the Saints had eight turnovers through the first five games last season, and 26 for the season. Through five games this season they have 11 but, more important, the team owns a plus-6 turnover ratio; last year New Orleans finished at plus-2.
Also, the team surrendered 440.1 yards per game in 2012. In 2013, it’s down to 330.4.
Jenkins has been a major reason for the transformation. The production the Saints envisioned when he was taken in the first round (No. 14 overall) in 2009 consistently has been on display.
He chased down Falcons receiver Julio Jones in the season opener to force a fumble that turned momentum in the Saints’ favor (New Orleans scored off the turnover). He intercepted a pass against Tampa Bay that snuffed out a Buccaneers scoring threat and helped the Saints remain in position to win the game on a field goal as time expired.
“He’s one of those smart guys that understand the game very well,” Coach Sean Payton said. “So when he has a free hit on the quarterback (in Chicago) – we had three or four rushes in that first half where we were unblocked – a guy like Malcolm can (cause a fumble). Especially, we spent a lot of time on the tape with where the ball sat with (Bears quarterback) Jay (Cutler).”
Jenkins has, in fact, produced several game-changing plays for the Saints, in addition to the Jones strip.
Last season in Tampa Bay, he chased down receiver Vincent Jackson after a 95-yard reception and the defense produced a goal-line stand to help win the game. On Thanksgiving against Dallas in 2010, he returned an interception 96 yards for a touchdown and chased down Cowboys receiver Roy Williams at the Saints’ 11-yard line, and forced a fumble that the Saints’ offense took and turned into a game-winning drive.
So far this season, he’s approaching that level of impact.
“The positions that we’re put in really give us an opportunity to make a play,” he said. “We’re getting pressure on the quarterback, you get bad throws, you get sack-fumbles.
“I have the freedom in the middle to be able to jump a route if I want to, and corners are covering well. When all that comes together, you get opportunities to make turnovers. When you’ve got guys running to the ball, you’ve got population around the ball, good things happen. And they’ve been happening for us.”
And, particularly, for him.