With checkered past, Jenkins is a big gamble

North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins has all the skills on the field, but not off the field. North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins has all the skills on the field, but not off the field. (File/Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / April 24, 2012
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One arrest for a bar fight.

One failed drug test at Florida.

Two arrests for marijuana possession.

Four children by three women.

That is the rap sheet North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins carries with him, a list of off-the-field offenses and potential problems that for some teams outweigh his NFL-caliber talent.

A native of Pahokee, Fla., in the “Muck City’’ area that produces its share of sugarcane and football stars - Fred Taylor, Santonio Holmes, Anquan Boldin, Andre Waters, and others - the 5-foot-10-inch, 193-pound Jenkins was a standout in high school and went on to the University of Florida, where he was just the second true freshman to start at corner in his first game for the Gators.

Jenkins’s superb play on the field was offset by incidents away from it - the May 2009 arrest for fighting and resisting arrest near a bar, during which he was Tasered and tried to run from police; and two arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession, which happened within three months of each other early in 2011.

In between, he failed a drug test. As part of a Sporting News report this month on the decay of the Gator program under former coach Urban Meyer, Jenkins was mentioned prominently as someone who was protected in Meyer’s “Circle of Trust,’’ apparently reserved for his best players.

According to the report, Jenkins walked out on Meyer’s postgame speech in the 2008 opener, his first game, and threatened to quit. He was not punished by the coach and went on to garner freshman All-America honors as Florida won the national title.

But after Meyer resigned following the 2010 season and Will Muschamp was installed as the Gators’ coach, Jenkins was dismissed from the team a couple of days after his second marijuana arrest.

Jenkins, 23, told the Orlando Sentinel he would have been on the team at Florida had Meyer still been coach.

He played his final season at Division 2 North Alabama, which made him sign a zero-tolerance agreement. He did not have any problems in his time at the school.

In every draft, there are players of varying potential who come with baggage. But some baggage is easier to accept than others; two years ago, the Patriots drafted Aaron Hernandez despite, as the Globe reported, multiple failed drug tests by the talented tight end. Hernandez, who played two seasons with Jenkins at Florida, did pay for his mistakes, as he was taken in the fourth round, not in the low first or second, where he was slotted based purely on talent, and his complicated contract was structured in a way that protected the Patriots should Hernandez have problems in New England.

So far, so good: Hernandez’s only issues have been knee injuries in each of his first two seasons, but when he is on the field, he is a dynamic playmaker.

The Patriots took advantage again last year when another talented player slid because of off-field concerns, taking big-armed quarterback Ryan Mallett in the third round. Mallett had to contend with rumors before the draft that he had used marijuana as well as harder drugs while at Arkansas.

By all appearances, Mallett stayed out of trouble his rookie season with New England.

The issue, however, is how much baggage is too much? And do red flags come in different shades?

The answer seems to be yes.

“What is always interesting to me is how different teams treat those red flags. There’s no one uniform way to deal with a kid off the field,’’ NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said. “The teams know more than we do. You’ve got to look these guys in the eye and have the right answers and most importantly convince them it’s not going to happen again.

“[Players] are all going to say the same thing: ‘I’ve grown up. I’m sorry.’ Now, do you buy into that? And here’s the key, just like medical [reports] - at what level do you buy in? Every team’s different that way.’’

Jenkins’s marijuana use - though he told reporters at the NFL Combine and a Palm Beach Post reporter recently that he’s done smoking the drug, three team executives told this month the cornerback admitted he also used marijuana at North Alabama - isn’t as big an issue as his attitude about how his behavior has affected his draft status.

In that story, one AFC personnel director said Jenkins simply “doesn’t see the error in his ways . . . he doesn’t think it’s a big deal.’’

That opinion was underscored by the Palm Beach Post story, which went online Monday evening.

In it, Jenkins said of his pot use, “I was just being a college student. I’m pretty sure there were more guys than me that smoked. I just got caught.’’

The other major problem is his four children by three women. Although, again, Jenkins doesn’t understand why it matters - “Everybody has kids. Where in the book do it say you can’t have kids?’’ he told the Post - it shows he lacks judgment.

The mothers of those children, three boys and a girl ranging from 3 years old to a few months, will want a bump in child support based on Jenkins’s NFL contract. When the Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie in 2010, they had to advance him $500,000 of his salary so he could pay back child support.

How many teams want that kind of headache? Not all of them - two teams have told the Globe they took Jenkins off their draft board.

At the annual NFL meetings in Florida last month, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said there is a point where character and off-field concerns can affect a team’s grade on a player.

“I think whenever you take any player you have everything that comes with them,’’ he said. “So whatever that is: their personality, their size, their speed, their instincts, their . . . everything. You get the whole thing.

“In the end, you have to establish some type of value in what you think the person’s role would be on your team, but based on that, you either put him on your team or don’t put them on your team. But it all comes once you have them.’’

Before he was booted at Florida, Jenkins was considered a top-20 pick. Now, with all of his baggage, many think he won’t be touched in the first round.

“There are some [players] that will actually be completely taken off the board, and then there’s the risk/reward factor that you have to deal with, and that usually means you’re discounting the prospect down a couple of rounds,’’ Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “You see that happen every year - there’s a certain point where you’ll hear draft experts talk about ‘Well his talent has him at this point in the draft, but he had some off-the-field issues and that’s why he’s not being drafted in the top rounds.’ ’’

At the Combine, when he was being represented by mega-agency CAA, Jenkins’s news conference was clearly rehearsed, and he came across well, owning up to the things on his record and saying he had learned from his past.

He has since changed agents, which also raised eyebrows, and judging by his comments to the Palm Beach Post, has forgotten the lessons of contrition.

Of the hit his draft stock, and therefore his wallet, has taken, he said, “It’s a big difference in money, but wherever I get drafted, I’ll be thankful for it. Whoever gets me is going to get a blessing. I’m a great guy.

“When I get to the league, I’ll be working for my second contract. I know I’m the best cornerback in the draft, and I’ll get the money eventually.’’

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