Could Cowboys hit jackpot with Jenkins?

Playing cornerback is all about Risk vs. Reward. So is the
business of drafting troubled players.

The Cowboys are no doubt weighing the risks of drafting former Florida standout
Janoris Jenkins. More than one draft prognosticator has the Cowboys taking
Jenkins at No. 14 overall.

It’s no secret the Cowboys are desperate for help in the secondary. Veteran
cornerback Terence Newman has likely played his last down for the Cowboys and
Alan Ball, Abram Elam and Frank Walker are unrestricted free agents who may not
return.

Until he was kicked off the team at Florida, Jenkins had all the earmarks of a
player who could step in and help immediately. But the Cowboys have been burned
by bringing in players with sketchy backgrounds. Remember Pacman Jones?

They’ve also been burned by passing over players with troubled pasts. Not
drafting Randy Moss probably ranks as one of the biggest regrets of Jerry
Jones’ tenure as owner and GM.

More recently, the Cowboys took a chance in drafting Dez Bryant. That decision
has had somewhat mixed results. In Bryant, the Cowboys have a productive
receiver whose off-field issues have been more of an annoyance than anything
gravely serious.

Every player who has character issues has to be evaluated on a case-by-case
basis. However, the Cowboys can draw from their experience with Bryant in
determining whether to take a risk on Jenkins.

First, they have to determine whether a prospect can play, then determine
whether that talent level matches the risk. Bryant clearly had the talent to be
a spectacular player when he entered the draft. Jenkins may not be the best
cornerback in the draft, but he was one of the best corners in the
defense-minded SEC before getting sidetracked.

Jenkins was dismissed by then-new Florida coach Will Muschamp after a second
arrest for misdemeanor marijuana possession in a three-month span. Two years
before that, Jenkins was arrested on misdemeanor charges for fighting and
resisting arrest.

Bryant’s issues have centered on a lack of maturity more than anything
criminal. Both failings can be harmful to a player’s career and his performance
on the field.

What the Cowboys have to determine is whether Jenkins has made the changes in
his life to avoid trouble in the future. Then they have to determine whether he
is a good fit for the roster.

When the Cowboys drafted Bryant, there was no experienced veteran receiver on
the roster to show him the ropes. In fact, he clashed with veteran Roy Williams
over a harmless rookie hazing incident.

With Jenkins, things would be different. Veteran safety Gerald Sensabaugh will
be around, and it was just a couple of years ago when cornerbacks Mike Jenkins
and Orlando Scandrick had to go through the NFL’s version of trial by fire for
rookie cornerbacks.

Another difference is that Bryant missed most of his final season at Oklahoma
State after being declared ineligible for lying to the NCAA about his
relationship with Deion Sanders.

When Jenkins was cut by Muschamp, he also could have sat and waited to be
drafted. Instead, he transferred to Division II North Alabama and kept himself
immersed in the game. Although D-II quarterbacks were often afraid to throw his
way, Jenkins used the time to work on his coverage techniques.

The issues regarding Bryant coming into the draft were mainly that he had
little personal discipline. The Cowboys were warned that Bryant would basically
have to be babysat. So far, Bryant has lived up to that reputation.

He has had to deal with multiple complaints of six-figure unpaid bills by
jewelers and ticket brokers. Bryant also had a run-in with security at an
upscale mall after he and his group were confronted about their sagging pants.
Most recently, there were reports that Bryant was involved in some sort of
altercation with a famous rapper at a Miami nightclub.

Around Valley Ranch, there have been reports of Bryant being late to and
falling asleep in meetings, wearing the wrong practice gear and not knowing the
playbook as well as he should.

None of this stuff is all that serious. At worst, Bryant is an overgrown child,
and if you know anything about his unstable childhood, it’s understandable that
the development of his sense of maturity has been delayed.

But when all his antics affect his production, that’s where it gets serious
from a football perspective.

Bryant caught 45 passes and six touchdowns as a rookie. He had 63 catches and nine
TDs last season. Those are not quite the numbers of an elite receiver, but he
is productive despite having injury issues both seasons.

When Bryant is healthy and contributing, he is often spectacular. His biggest
drawback is that he tends to disappear in games, which could be a lack of focus — or a lack of trust by quarterback Tony Romo.

The Cowboys are banking on Bryant putting it all together one day and becoming
the consistent, big-play threat his talent says he should be.

With Jenkins, there would be a similar probationary period — all rookie
cornerbacks go through a learning curve — but zero tolerance for any drug
issues. The investment of a first-round pick is too great to waste on a player
who could be sitting in jail on Sundays.

In evaluating Jenkins, the Cowboys will also have to evaluate those around him.
If Jenkins has a support system of friends and mentors who have his best
interests at heart, he is much less of a risk to find trouble again as a pro.

Many thought the Cowboys were taking a risk in drafting Bryant at No. 24 two
years ago, after he slipped in the first round because of off-field concerns.
So far that gamble has paid off, although not yet in huge dividends.

The Cowboys could reap similar rewards in drafting Jenkins. It’s all a matter
of weighing the risks.

Follow Keith Whitmire on Twitter: @Keith_Whitmire