Packers rookie Elgton Jenkins deflects attention like he does opposing pass rushers
GREEN BAY – Delandra Jenkins would sit in the stands at Clarksdale High School in Mississippi and intently watch her son Elgton play offensive line, as she watched all his youth games in the mornings, hours after finishing night shifts.
Her first concern was always for Elgton's safety. Once during his formative years she told him if he ever got tired to just raise his hand and she’d come down and pull him out of the game, eliciting a sheepish demurral. As he aged and grew, every now and then she’d notice that, well, she was the only one noticing him. So she asked once how come she never heard his name come over the loudspeakers.
Ma, the position I play it’s more quiet and laid back. We get all the work done and the offense don’t move if we ain’t moving people.
He has always been one to deflect attention. Like when Delandra asked her son if he wanted to move his draft party about four and a half hours northeast to his brother’s home outside Nashville, site of the NFL draft and an atmosphere more in line with Mardi Gras than an employment opportunity.
No, mama, I want to be at home.
That was just as well.
So, when former Packers receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer James Lofton announced “Elgton Jenkins, guard, Mississippi State” on Friday evening, April 26 above the raucousness on Broadway and First Avenue in Nashville, not only did the Jenkins family finally get to hear his name called and splashed across screens across the world, but the entire Clarksdale community, from the Union Grove Baptist Church members to former coaches and friends along the Sunflower River, celebrated with them.
“I’ve gotten so many phone calls and Facebook was just lit up with Elgton,” his mother said. “It’s been crazy but I thank God for it, that we were able to be at home and be with family and friends and his old teachers, his old coaches were there when he got the call. It was exciting.”
It was an event rivaled only by Jenkins' graduation ceremony at Mississippi State in December.
“I’m proud. I’m so happy for him,” said Jenkins' father, Elgton Sr. “But at the same time I want him to go there and be safe and do a good job too, like he did in college.”
If Jenkins has his way from here on out, he’ll get back to being someone whose name isn’t called much. But for the first time in his football life there’s a bit of a stir about him. Such things happen when you’re one of the first 50 college players picked in the NFL draft.
“I was going back telling the younger guys, I know I did a lot of stuff in football but that graduation was a whole different feeling,” Jenkins said. “But once that call came draft night — it’s no better; it’s no better feeling to be honest. I just bust out in tears. Everything I had been working for since I was 6, it happened.”
The Packers selected Jenkins No. 44 overall and plan to move him to guard, but there is a logjam of experience on the interior of the line as well as the additions of 2017 draft pick Cole Madison and recently signed free agent Billy Turner.
Such competition happens when you’re now a professional. There are few easy rides, but that’s nothing new for Jenkins.
Despite being bigger than most others in Clarksdale, it’s still just a town of about 17,000. He played for two head coaches in high school and the Wildcats were OK, made a couple of playoff trips, but were not a state power. By the end of his prep career he was considered a “three-star” recruit and only Mississippi State offered a scholarship. Once on campus in Starkville, he redshirted.
So he got to work.
“Ever since I was a young child, not just playing football, I just wanted to be the best version of me,” Jenkins said. “I’ve been playing football since I was 6, just working on my craft on the football field and in the classroom, and I really know hard work leads to good results.”
His first season on the field in 2015 showed his potential. In 11 games he started once at left tackle and at right tackle. He also earned his first appearance on the Southeastern Conference Honor Roll. In 2016 he started three times at left tackle and then moved to guard. In 2017 it was determined he should command the entire offensive line and play center. His pass blocking was widely touted by the analytical site Pro Football Focus. By the end of 2018, Jenkins was considered by some as the top center prospect in the draft class and left Starkville with a degree in industrial technology.
“He has always had a good drive and ambition to pretty much finish things that he starts,” Jenkins Sr. said. “When he did get called up in college and high school we had a chance to go do things with him that we probably didn’t know that he was going to go to the NFL, but he was doing things in that direction, to point him to the NFL. We kind of knew that he was going to try and grind it out and make it to the next level.”
The Packers lauded the athletic qualities that allow Jenkins such on-field versatility. He is 6 feet, 4 inches and 310 pounds and put up 29 on the bench press with 34-inch arms (the same length as Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari). But Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead said to actually be able to put all that to use, across multiple positions, requires the other skills Jenkins has shown throughout his time coming up through Clarksdale and Starkville.
“In our time here, and prior to our arrival, I think he was committed to the process of becoming a great player,” Moorhead said. “And that’s not just what happens during the week in practice on the field but the weight training, the sleep, the nutrition, the conditioning, the mental preparation in the meeting room, studying on his own. All those things, when you combine them, it allowed him to get to the position where he is now.”
Her son has come a long way since Delandra would settle her 5-pound infant on her chest to sleep, or nervously watch him play back-to-back youth games in his class and then with the next age group up. But some things have changed little. He remains quiet, unassuming — and once again has high expectations placed upon him.
“Things haven’t been easy, but with all circumstance you’ve got to put your best foot forward and just grind, man,” Jenkins said. “With hard work, good results show, so that’s what I’m going to do here.”