Michael Jenkins’ Steady Hands, Reliability Could Give Patriots Wide Receiver Starting Role to Begin Season

Michael JenkinsWhen the Patriots signed wide receiver Michael Jenkins in late March, the transaction went through without much fanfare. However, the tenth-year receiver could play a bigger role in the Patriots’ offense than some may have expected.

Jenkins was working heavily with Tom Brady and Danny Amendola on the near-side of the field during the first week of OTAs. Sure, it’s only May, but it appeared Jenkins was playing with the first team — for now.

It’s fair to say that the Ohio State product has been a slight disappointment since being the No. 29 overall pick in the 2004 draft. He’s never gained over 777 yards in a season, he’s never scored more than seven touchdowns and he’s never caught more than 90 passes. His career average yards per catch is 12.5.

But Jenkins has been reliable and consistent throughout his nine-year career. With just a one-year, $855,000 contract, there’s no risk for New England. He’s making far less money than Brandon Lloyd, who offered more upside in 2012, but never fully lived up to his hype.

Jenkins’ biggest strength throughout his career has been his steady hands. Jenkins had just two drops in 2012 on 66 targets, ranking him 13th in drop rate (4.76) out of 82 eligible receivers. He had three drops on 54 targets in 2011 and no one was better in 2010 when he didn’t drop a single ball on 69 targets.

Last season Lloyd had a drop rate of 8.64. He dropped seven passes on 129 targets and didn’t offer many more yards per catch. Lloyd averaged 12.3 per reception in 2012, while Jenkins averaged 11.2.

The biggest complaint surrounding Lloyd in 2012 was his miniscule yards after catch. Lloyd racked up just 2.6 yards after catch last season, down from his 2.7 YAC average.

Jenkins was far better in that department, though neither were even above average. Jenkins fought for 3.4 yards after the catch. That was up from his career average of 3.1.

Neither player will ever be considered a burner on the edge of the field, but both players have their individual strengths. Neither can get separation down the field, but Lloyd uses his impressive catching radius to beat defenders, while Jenkins can use his size.

Brady hasn’t had a target out wide with Jenkins’ size since Randy Moss was still in town. Jenkins stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 214 pounds. Once again, he will not beat anyone with his speed, but Brady finally has a physical target that he can throw it up to.

With players like Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce fighting with Jenkins for the starting X receiver spot, the Patriots should benefit from Jenkins’ day-to-day consistency. Dobson and Boyce are unknowns as rookies, so if neither is ready to play a starting role to begin the season, at least the Patriots have a receiver who can give the team similar production to Lloyd last season — even if the two have much different strengths.

Jenkins’ sure hands cannot be overlooked. Brady had a very reliable target in Deion Branch over the years, but his best play is behind him. Wes Welker had not flashed reliable hands since 2009, when he dropped just six balls on 152 targets. Since then, Welker dropped 13 balls in 2010 and 2011 and 15 in 2012.

Jenkins surely won’t be the “deep threat” that the Patriots need, but he’ll be able to play a role in the New England offense because he should be able to play immediately. The Patriots could still bring in Dobson or Boyce to run the fly pattern when they need to utilize a deep pattern or when they need to take the top off the defense.

It’s likely the Patriots will use a rotation at the X position with Jenkins, Dobson, Boyce, Aaron Hernandez and possibly Donald Jones. Jenkins may not catch 74 passes like Lloyd did last season, but at least he’ll catch a greater percentage of targets tossed his way.

Patriots fans may not be excited if Jenkins is thrown out as a starter in Week 1, but they’ll need someone out there that can do the job until Dobson and Boyce are ready.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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