The San Francisco 49ers are in an interesting position heading into the upcoming NFL Draft. They let Isaac Sopoaga and Ricky Jean Francois walk in free agency, leaving them with some questions at the nose tackle role. Ian Williams signed a contract extension, and the team brought in Glenn Dorsey via free agency. Both will get a chance to win playing time at the nose tackle role, but we have to expect the 49ers to bring in another option to compete for the role.
Enter Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins?
The monster of a man has been mentioned in connection with the 49ers. He visited with the 49ers last week, and has been mocked to the 49ers on occasion. The 49ers hold 13 picks in next week's draft, and are in a position where they can move around as needed. Their positions of need (primarily safety and defensive line) are both quite deep in this year's draft, providing them with some flexibility in their considerations.
Earlier this week, I was able to arrange an interview with Jenkins. The deadline for teams to host players has passed, which means prospects are coming down the home stretch. For Jenkins, he is focusing in on his conditioning as the draft approaches. He said his heavy-lifting is done, and now it's a matter of staying in shape, and working on flexibility and footwork. In fact, he had just finished up a workout before we spoke.
Jenkins met with the 49ers last week, and he felt the meeting went well. He could not go into much detail, which should surprise none of us. The 49ers keep things under the radar, and that policy does not change with their meetings. He did compare the meetings to his time as a high school recruit. The one obvious difference being that those meetings are about the school trying to sell you, while draft prospect meetings are about the prospect selling himself.
The most pertinent question in my mind related to his thoughts on how he would fit in on the 49ers defensive line. The 49ers need additional depth, but the type of player they would fit in requires some measure of versatility. If they were to add a defensive tackle, one of the keys for such a prospect would be an ability to play more than just the nose tackle role. The 49ers used Isaac Sopoaga as their nose tackle approximately 35% of the time. They spent much more time in nickel, and they need guys who can rotate all around.
I asked him about his potential versatility beyond just the 3-4 nose tackle role:
"I feel like I have a pretty good resume I built up in my last year at Georgia. I played a lot of defensive end, a lot of five and four. So I mean, I feel like I'm a step above than just a normal nose tackle. You watch my film, I am capable of playing the five and the four. And I was playing at such a heavier weight than I am now. So now, if the 49ers need to stick me out there for any reason, I am in even better shape than I was at Georgia for my senior year."
Jenkins weighed in at 346 pounds at the NFL Combine, but he said he is below his Combine weight at this point as he continues working on his conditioning.
I also asked him to provide a scouting report on himself.
I show improvement in games. I have a lot of positives, a few negatives. Sometimes I need to be more consistent, but I'm working on that. As far as positives, I'm strong. I was a lot bigger at one time, so for my size at the time, I showed I have somewhat of a good motor for my size. That I'm able to run the field. I can pass rush, but I need to be more consistent. Pretty much the only negative thing that I have for the scouting report is being consistent. But, I feel like during the year as it was going by, I showed more consistency than before. I showed a lot of improvement, getting better. Being able to convert, being able to be a three-down lineman.
If you're looking for an interesting outside scouting report, check out what Doug Farrar has to say at Shutdown Corner. Farrar sees him as a guy with the potential to be a dominant nose tackle, but also a guy who could fill a variety of roles across the line. He will need to keep himself in shape, but all indications point to Jenkins paying close attention to that. Given that the 49ers included weight clauses in Anthony Davis' new contract, I have to think they'll work with Jenkins to keep him in the shape he needs to be in at the next level.
One thing that I found particularly interesting in my pre-interview research was that Jenkins actually played basketball for much of his high school career. He converted to football his final year, in part because his friends were playing football. He went on to Gulf Coast Community College, and then played two seasons at Georgia.
As far as I see it, this is a guy who has some sizable potential because he is still learning the game of football. He had a chance to meet with 49ers defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, and Jenkins saw him as a no-nonsense guy who will not sugarcoat anything. Jenkins is a guy in a position where the 49ers coaching staff can mold him into the kind of defensive lineman they need. He acknowledged that he is always going to have something to learn. I realize it's just talk right now, but not all players have that kind of awareness.
One final note. Someone on Twitter wanted to know if Jenkins had a particular quarterback he wanted to sack in the NFL. I threw that question out with a bit of a laugh, and his answer provided some solid smarts. "Man, I'm not looking to start my career off like that. I'm a smarter player than that." I suppose it's all in joking, but at least he wasn't ready to stick his foot in his mouth. I consider that a good sign of smarts!