Between now and preseason, we’ll be breaking down the Jets’ undrafted rookies. Today, we break down former South Carolina and Georgia Tech wide receiver EJ Jenkins in detail. Jenkins is listed as a tight end with the Jets.
The 24-year old Jenkins is listed at 6’6” and 245 pounds and racked up 17 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns with Georgia Tech last season. Prior to that, he had played for the Gamecocks in 2021, catching eight passes, and was a second-team all-NEC selection with St Francis (Pa.) at the FCS level.
Jenkins was a three-star recruit coming out of high school but ended up with the St Francis Red Flash at the FCS level and redshirted his first season in 2017, then had just five catches for 52 yards and a touchdown in nine games in 2018.
He broke out in the 2019 season, showcasing his big play abilities as he averaged 20 yards per catch and scored 13 touchdowns. He ended up with 779 yards on 39 catches and was a second-team all-NEC selection.
The Red Flash’s 2020 season was ultimately cancelled due to the pandemic, so Jenkins entered the transfer portal and enrolled at South Carolina. He didn’t see much action in 2021 but flashed a few times with 117 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
In 2022, Jenkins transferred again, this time joining Georgia Tech. He again showed some playmaking abilities on his 17 catches, as he averaged 18.6 yards per catch and caught a team-high three touchdown receptions.
At the end of the season, Jenkins wasn’t invited to the scouting combine but participated at the Hula Bowl and turned heads at his pro day workout.
While some experts thought he had a chance to be drafted in the late rounds despite a deep tight end class, he eventually had to settle for an undrafted free agent deal with the Jets. The contract includes $100K in guaranteed salary and a $10K signing bonus.
Now let’s take a look at what Jenkins brings to the table, divided into categories.
Jenkins bulked up at the end of the season, adding 22 pounds to his long frame. He has an excellent catch radius and was a size mismatch throughout his college career but needed to bulk up so he can face bigger defenders, especially if he’s moving to tight end.
At his pro day, he impressed by running a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash and posting a 32-inch vertical and 122-inch broad jump. His agility and strength numbers were below average though.
As noted, Jenkins played wide receiver in college but is converting to tight end at the NFL level. He didn’t even really have any plays where he motioned to the edge of the line in college and none of his teams ran many bunch formations where he’d be close to the edge of the line. He did play in the slot, but not very often.
However, he did practice as a tight end at both St Francis and South Carolina. Ahead of his first season, he had worked as a second-team tight end all spring before reverting to wide receiver. He also attended meetings with the rest of the tight end room.
At the Hula Bowl, Jenkins did play 14 snaps as a conventional tight end and we’ll be sharing some of those reps in the blocking section below.
As noted earlier, Jenkins’ yards per catch averages were typically high and he did show an ability to make catches down the field at St Francis and Georgia Tech. These aren’t just back shoulder throws and jump balls either, as he’s shown an ability to get behind the defense.
With some weight added and a move to the tight end position, Jenkins should certainly be able to stretch the field by getting down the seam and could be someone you isolate and throw it up to in the right matchup.
As an oversized receiver, Jenkins can look predictably cumbersome as he enters an exits his breaks. However, when combined with his size and catch radius, this could often still be good enough to get him adequate separation.
While he is effective on crossers and hitches, Jenkins has been more effective when he can use his size rather than his speed to separate. On this play he fights for outside leverage down the field and then keeps the defensive player on his back hip.
Moving to tight end will mean he no longer needs to run a full route tree anyway and his experience at receiver could serve him well.
In college, he was called for offensive pass interference on an unsuccessful target once.
As noted, Jenkins has a huge catch radius and he uses it well to go up to get high passes. He has also made a couple of spectacular one-handed catches during his college career.
Despite these abilities, Jenkins had a low catch rate at the FBS level (44 percent) and dropped one in every 10 targets.
Jenkins only had four touchdowns over the past two seasons and while two of them were inside the red zone, they were outside the 10-yard line.
His skill-set does lend itself towards being a potential red zone target though, as he proved in his 13-touchdown season in 2019. Many of these saw him take advantage of a matchup close to the goal line.
Yards after the catch
Jenkins isn’t particularly elusive in the open field but his size means that he can run over smaller defenders or through arm tackles in space.
He battles hard for tough yardage and is capable of dragging defenders with him or falling forward for a few extra yards at the end of a play.
None of his 25 catches at SC or Georgia Tech were caught behind the line of scrimmage and he had no fumbles.
Often when a player makes the move from wide receiver to tight end, it’s with blocking that they struggle most. Jenkins has acknowledged that he’ll need to add strength because he’ll be blocking bigger guys, but did show some promise as a run blocker with his effort and efficiency with the Yellow Jackets.
As mentioned earlier, he played tight end in the Hula Bowl, where he had a couple of encouraging blocks. On this play, he drove his man back off the line and sealed him off.
On this one, Jenkins operated well on a double-team block to set the edge, angling his man off to seal him to the inside.
Obviously he will have some work to do. On this example, he initially allowed his man to get some penetration which had an impact on another linemen’s efforts to get out and make his block, then lost leverage as he tried to regain ground.
Jenkins had two holding penalties during the past two seasons.
Jenkins has literally no live game experience of pass blocking, so this is one of the main areas that he’ll need to develop and learn. The closest he came to a pass protection rep was during the Hula Bowl where he briefly slowed up his man before leaking out into a pass pattern.
He has had some success as a blocker on receiver screens but did have one offensive pass interference penalty for blocking too early.
Jenkins does have some limited special teams experience and will be expected to do this with the Jets if he’s going to get onto the active roster.
He’s primarily seen action as a blocker on the kicking unit and in punt protection, but not as often on the kick return units. He hasn’t recorded any tackles covering kicks and has only rushed kicks sporadically.
Practicing at two positions no doubt helped Jenkins develop some versatility but his scheme familiarity was damaged by the fact his team kept changing. Despite this, he didn’t make a lot of mental errors in his career and had no pre-snap penalties in the past two seasons.
When Lawrence Cager was converting from wide receiver to tight end last season, he said that the toughest adjustment was in respect of the mental aspect and that there is so much more you need to be aware of in terms of the intricacies of every play. Jenkins will no doubt face an identical challenge.
He was on the SEC fall academic honor roll in 2021.
Jenkins brought some good experience and leadership to the Yellow Jackets in 2022, having been praised in the past for his hard working approach and for pushing teammates to watch film and hit the weights room.
He’s said he feels like he is better than people have given him credit for and will be entering the league with a chip on his shoulder having gone undrafted.
Jenkins didn’t have any major injuries in his college career but was dealing with an undisclosed injury during the spring with South Carolina in 2021. He eventually returned in a non-contact jersey with the coaches merely confirming he had been “dinged-up”.
The position change for Jenkins will be an interesting challenge but he has potential to be a good target in the passing game while also holding his own as a blocker. At his current size, he’s probably going to be more of a “move” tight end than an inline blocker.
Similar to Cager, he could be a player who works his way into the rotation in three tight end sets and as a big option out of the slot.
The Jets have a deep group at tight end with CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin taking up virtually all of the reps if healthy and recent draft picks Jeremy Ruckert and Zack Kuntz expected to compete for a role.
The comparison with Kuntz is an interesting one because the prevailing assumption is that Jenkins doesn’t have much of a chance of making the team because the seventh-rounder probably won’t be exposed to waivers even if he’s simply stashed on the 53-man roster and sometimes inactive. However, Jenkins could just as easily have been drafted and Kuntz undrafted so can we rule out Jenkins establishing himself as the more promising developmental prospect?
Kuntz is obviously a fantastic athlete but Jenkins played against a higher level of competition over the past few years and seems to have an edge in terms of his physicality and playmaking ability. While Jenkins’ statistical production is less impressive, that can be largely attributed to some poor quarterback play. They will both need to improve their blocking and to prove they can make special teams contributions.
It would be a surprise but if Jenkins can have a good camp and preseason, him beating out Kuntz (or even Ruckert) for that fourth tight end spot perhaps cannot be ruled out at this stage. In either case, he seems like a good bet to be retained on the practice squad but would probably need multiple injuries to get a real chance to contribute in 2023.