Unlike some cornerbacks, Janoris Jenkins isn’t into ranking himself against others.
“I just continue to play football and don’t worry about who is No. 1, who is No. 5, who is No. 25,” he said. “Just play Jackrabbit football.”
Jackrabbit is his nickname, often the only name he goes by. And Jackrabbit football? It’s something he insists he’s been doing all his career. The rest of the world is just catching up to that fact.
Jenkins wasn’t a household name — or a household nickname, for that matter — when he signed a five-year, $62.5-million deal with the Giants during the offseason, but he is becoming one this year after shutting down a series of elite wide receivers. He’s been a huge reason the Giants have turned their defense around from the worst in the NFL a year ago to one that essentially has won nine games in 2016 with very little help from the offense.
The world is starting to notice him. Which is just what Jenkins has always wanted. He’s in New York, on a winning team, and playing great.
“The longer you play, the more eyes you get,” he said of heading toward the playoffs. “You just have to stay focused and continue to play.”
Before this year, he basically was a shrouded secret among NFL players, one of the dozens who excel in obscurity because of small markets or bad teams.
“They know. I’m sure they know. They’ve known,” Jenkins said of recognition from his fellow players.
Giants teammate Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said he did, but he’s in the defensive back business.
“Sometimes you have really good players on bad teams and they can’t shatter that,” he said. “Now they’re seeing.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas, though, said he had no clue.
“I knew he had to be some type of player to get that type of deal,” Casillas said. “Within a few months I realized that this dude is top tier. Top two or three in the league. And he’s been proving that week in and week out. Dude’s making incredible plays and he’s shutting down some pretty good receivers.”
The first receivers Casillas saw Jenkins shut down were the ones on the Giants.
“The first couple of days [of practice] when I saw him strapping people up,” Casillas said of when he realized what the Giants had. “He’s a tremendous football player, such a great football IQ. He’s just a baller, straight up.”
One Giants coach had some inside knowledge on Jenkins.
“The best insight that we had [was from] Tim Walton, who is one of our secondary coaches here and was in St. Louis with Janoris,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “So we had a wealth of information. Tim was convicted about Jackrabbit and he convicted us and away we went.”
Jenkins had a reputation for giving up big plays, but he insists that was because he gambled on trying to make his own game-changers for a bad St. Louis team that often played from behind. He also came into the season acknowledging that he could get “lazy” at the end of games.
“Just relaxing, thinking about the ball not coming to my side and focusing more on the game,” Jenkins said in his introductory news conference in the spring. “It’s just a mind thing, easy to control. Playing on this level, some things are going to happen and you’ve just got to improve, man.”
He hasn’t shown any signs of laziness with the Giants. It’s been just the opposite.
“I think Janoris is a competitive guy,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “I think that rubs off on everyone in the secondary, on the defense and on the team. He has those competitive juices flowing out there and he plays with a lot of passion. I think that helps us as a team.”
As for Spagnuolo, he said he had “a sense” that Jenkins was pretty good. More importantly, he thought he could fit into his system.
“We like aggressive corners that press and fit what we do,” he said. “Thank God that it has worked out pretty good.”