BY DAN GRAZIANO
NEW YORK – Malcolm Jenkins was at home in Piscataway when he got the word that the New Orleans Saints had picked him with the 14th pick in the NFL Draft on Saturday. It was the completion of a long, thrilling journey for one of the seven New Jersey players picked in the first round.
Jenkins, the brilliant Ohio State defensive back, probably would have been a top-five or top-ten pick had he come out a year ago, after his junior season. Instead, he went back to play for the Buckeyes as a senior, and he has no regrets.
"That's one of the best decisions I ever made, to stay in school and enjoy my senior year," Jenkins said Sunday at Radio City Music Hall. "I'll graduate in June, I won the (Jim) Thorpe Award (for nation's best defensive back), I got to have Senior Day and all that went with that. I'm so glad I made that decision, because it's something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."Some teams looked at Jenkins as a free safety, others as a cornerback. The Saints have told him they'll use him at cornerback for now, but everybody will be open-minded about changing if necessary.
Jenkins said either was fine, and went about enjoying his day. He hopped from the stage to the NFL Network set to the ESPN set, shaking hands and signing autographs and even hearing a little good-natured heckling from the fans in the balcony.
"Why didn't you go to Rutgers?" one fan shouted, drawing a smile from Jenkins.
It did not escape Jenkins' attention that seven Jersey guys got picked in Round 1, either. He reminisced about playing high school football against and among the likes of fellow first-rounders Brian Cushing and Knowshon Moreno, and said he thinks the flow of talent from the Garden State is only beginning.
"I think it's starting to really show, how many guys come out of New Jersey that are really talented," Jenkins said. "It can be tough to tell, because they go to different colleges - they don't stay and go to Rutgers."
That may be changing, too. To the delight of a group of rowdy Rutgers fans in the balcony, there were five former Rutgers players taken in this year's NFL draft - receiver Kenny Britt (first round, to Tennessee), quarterback Mike Teel (sixth round, to Seattle), cornerback Jason McCourty (sixth round, to Tennessee), safety Courtney Greene (seventh round, to Seattle) and receiver Tiquan Underwood (seventh round, to Jacksonville).
That was the Jersey highlight at the end of Sunday, but there was one at the beginning, too, when the Jets traded up to take Sicklerville's Shonn Greene with the first pick of the third round. Greene was a talented running back at Iowa whose stock dropped because he had to sit out the 2007 season for academic reasons. But the Jets traded three picks to get him because, head coach Rex Ryan said, they had him rated so much higher than any other player left on their draft board that they decided it was worth it to add him to a running back corps that already includes Thomas Jones and Leon Washington.
"The difference, in our opinion, between him and the next couple of guys we had listed made it an easy call," Ryan said.
Now Greene will get to play his pro football in the same state in which he played his high school football.