During his first stint with the New Orleans Saints from 2019-13 after being a first round draft pick out of Ohio State, safety Malcolm Jenkins could look to numerous defensive teammates from a period where the team posted two 13-win seasons, four playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship for guidance, knowledge and inspiration as they were in the middle of prolific playing careers. Among them were safety Roman Harper, defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, all members of the team's Hall of Fame. In addition to their on-field productivity, all three made significant impacts in their communities, in New Orleans, the cities where they attended college and their hometowns.
Nearly a decade later, sandwiched between a successful six-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he collected his second Super Bowl ring, Jenkins' career has come full circle in his second go-round in New Orleans, serving as the "Dean of the Defense," the longest tenured player on the team, ranking among its most productive defenders in both tackles and takeaways, while serving as a wise mentor and conscience away from it.
Now in his 13th season, Jenkins has not missed a game or a start dating back to November 17, 2013. The 125 consecutive regular season games started by Jenkins since then is the longest games-started streak by a defensive back in the NFL with a leading margin of nearly 50 games. Dating back to the start of the 2017 playoffs, Jenkins has barely missed a defensive snap.
With 1,289 combined defensive/special teams tackles, Jenkins has the possibility of reaching 1,300 for his career today. Good genes, luck and a solid training/recovery method is what Jenkins credits for this durability and productivity.
"It's a lot of things," said Jenkins. "Luck and being blessed is one of them. But I do a lot to take care of my body. I've changed the way that I play the game, probably back in 2013 and it's kept me healthier. The way I train throughout the offseason and the season, in addition to diet and sleep (habits) help. I just take care of my body a lot more.
I realize that all the team I depend on, depends on me to be available and be on the field. That's a huge part of this game, being able to make it to the game and to be available week in and week out." Jenkins has embraced this elder statesman role both on the field and the meeting room, leading the team with four takeaways in 2020 as well as leading the secondary in tackles. In 2021, he has guided a secondary whose other four starters all have five or fewer years of service time, leading them with 40 stops, while adding an interception return for a touchdown.
The performances of cornerbacks Paulson Adebo and Marshon Lattimore, Nickelback C.J. Gardner-Johnson and safety Marcus Williams have definitely been helped by Jenkins' skills and will play an integral role in helping bring the team's defense to new heights as they face elite signal-callers on the remainder of the schedule, not only in today's opponent, Tampa Bay's Tom Brady, but also Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Buffalo's Josh Allen and Dallas' Dak Prescott on the slate.
"I think obviously I am the veteran of the group who has played a lot of football," said Jenkins. "I try to be an extension of the coaching staff. But if you look at each particular spot, we have a very talented group that has a pedigree of playing good ball over a long period of time. The biggest thing for us is trying to mold as a group, continuing to learn off of each other and trust each other, but if you look at it on paper, it's the most talented secondary I've been a part of."
Off the field, Jenkins developed a voice early in his career and is determined to make a positive impact not only nationally and in his football home of New Orleans, but also in his former formative and football stops including New Jersey (Piscataway native), Columbus, Ohio (Ohio State) and Philadelphia (Eagles). His special interests involve donating his time and money both individually and through his Malcolm Jenkins Foundation to social justice, education via mentoring and college scholarships and working to uplift underserved communities. While Jenkins is selective in the causes he supports, he does so in order to give his all to those specific areas.
"I think I've learned a ton of things through my lifetime, especially about society and history and how we kind of arrived to this place, racial issues, politics. And really what I've noticed is that people who stay focused on what their fight is tend to have the most impact, and so what I try to do is... I'm very selective about what fights that I jump into and what I want to be involved in," said Jenkins. "I'm going to give whatever I'm in my all. I realize you can't fight every fight, but the ones I'm involved in, I'm going to be 100 percent into. All of the things you see me doing off the field are most of the time extensions of me, the things that I'm actively thinking about, wanting to talk about. A lot of that stuff is hard work.
People realize you aren't going to see many fruits from your labor as we're talking about things changing over generations that are probably a lot slower than we'd like it to be, and it calls for people to be very committed. So for me, it's easier to be committed to things that you are personally invested and involved in."
In addition to this community work, Jenkins has strived for a balance in his non-football life, looking to integrate off-the-field opportunities with his commitment to his team and the sport. Jenkins has invested in the areas of fashion, venture capital and restaurant franchising. In his most recent pursuit, Jenkins acquired a minority stake in the English Premier League soccer franchise Burnley FC, attending a contest and touring the organization's playing and business facilities over the Saints bye weekend.
Despite all these interests, Jenkins feels his playing career is far from over. He feels a strong commitment to helping the Saints achieve the goals that are in front of them in 2021 as they make their move in the NFC South and beyond. He's not even counting out staying in the game for a post-playing career, rather seeking to broaden his horizons while continuing to confuse opposing quarterbacks on the field.
"I think what's established already and is with me is that I love football," said Jenkins. "I want to stay in the game in some capacity, what capacity is what I'm trying to work out. But all those other things I'm trying to get into, social justice work, business, investing, franchising, fashion, production companies, those other things are me exploring what are my other interests outside of football. And oftentimes, professional athletes, especially football players—having been playing since I was seven years old—the majority of our life's being racked up in football. At school we play football, we play at the highest level and it's a consuming, year-round thing (commitment). Oftentimes, we've never really had the time to explore the other interests that we have with other talent we have. The reason I'm doing a lot of things now is not because I'm preparing for retirement or setting things up when I'm done. That's important, but I'm really looking to show the next generation of athletes that you can develop yourself and your other interests and these businesses that benefit you and your family while you are still doing it, because that's when you have the most social capital, leverage and the highest platform, the most visibility. We as athletes need to—while we are developing on the court and field—we need to be pulling into ourselves in these moments, because these are the times every retired player looks back and wishes he had done more, wish they would have took a class and invested into themselves like they invest in their respective sports."