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Florida Gators in the NFL: Janoris Jenkins gets first — and last? — shot at a Super Bowl

The former Gator will be active for the 49ers — and his first career conference championship game.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

We’ve reached the Final Four of the NFL season. Three of the four teams remaining have former Gators on their active rosters. The one team that doesn’t — the San Francisco 49ers — still has Janoris Jenkins on their practice squad.

If you track and follow a few different Gators sites, you may have noticed that unlike us here, some aren’t following Jackrabbit’s NFL exploits.

Jenkins arrived in Gainesville as one of the top-rated cornerbacks in the country, a key piece of Urban Meyer’s 2008 recruiting class. Defensive backs coach Vance Bedford gave him the nickname Jackrabbit early that season because of the way he was always running around on the field without really knowing what to do. That nickname is one Jenkins cherishes to this day.

He lived up to the recruiting hype immediately, becoming just the second true freshman to start at corner for Florida (Joe Haden was the first). Jenkins was a key piece of a defense that helped the Gators win their second national title in three seasons. He had three interceptions in that rookie campaign and was named to the College Football News All-Freshman team.

Jenkins played two more years in Gainesville, culminating in All-SEC honors and a third-team All-American nod from Rivals his junior season in 2010. After piling up eight interceptions — including one pick-six — and 121 tackles in 39 career games, Jenkins was close to entering the NFL draft. He decided to come back for his senior season, but off-the-field issues derailed those plans.

Will Muschamp was hired in December of 2010, and certainly his defensive reputation might have played a part in Jenkins’ decision to return. But after two arrests in three months for marijuana possession, Muschamp — hired in part to clean up some of the lawlessness from the Meyer era — felt like he had no choice but to dismiss Jenkins. Jackrabbit finished his college career at North Alabama before being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL draft.

When I started tracking former Gators in the league — first at Our Two Bits and now here at Alligator Army — I laid out some nebulous ground rules for dealing with transfers. If a player made a substantial impact at Florida, and especially if most of their college production came for the Gators, I considered them to be a Gator. If someone played sparingly, or went on to much greater heights at their new school, I didn’t feel like Gator Nation could claim them.

Although I don’t believe Florida’s athletic department has an official policy, they appear to follow something similar. In last season’s football media guide, for instance, Jenkins is listed in the “Gators in the NFL” section — along with others I’ve tracked, like Jeff Driskel. Jacoby Brissett is not listed, and we haven’t followed him in this space either.

Jenkins was a heckuva player in Gainesville and he’s gone on to be one of the best former Gators to ever play in the NFL. His 27 career picks are tied for fourth most by a former Gator. He returned eight of those for touchdowns, incredibly tied for eighth in the history of the league. He is third among all active players with 124 career pass breakups.

So, as Jenkins is activated from the practice squad this weekend — like he has been all postseason so far — Florida will have representation on every team in every game. And that means Florida will once again be assured of having a former player in the Super Bowl for the 21st straight year and on the winning team for the ninth time in the past 11 years.

Divisional Player of the Week

I keep writing that we are close to the full Kadarius Toney experience. Then the Chiefs take us right to the precipice ... before pulling back and not revealing the full Joka just yet.

Despite the still-limited workload, Toney was targeted seven times last week, hauling in five catches and recording one rush for a total of 50 scrimmage yards. He was the only Kansas City player besides Travis Kelce to have more than two targets — and Toney only ran 12 routes!

As we saw in Gainesville and as I’ve noted all season here, Toney isn’t just fast and shifty. He is a terror finishing plays. That power and explosion almost got him in the end zone last week.

Divisional Play of the Week

The 2022 season interception leader didn’t get a pick in his first playoff game, but C.J. Gardner-Johnson can take partial credit for his teammate James Bradberry’s interception.

We’ve seen CJGJ make plays all year long in Philadelphia, and then let everyone know about it like only he can.

After the game, Ceedy Duce went live from the locker room celebration. Part of that celly? Giving head coach Nick Sirianni his Dream Chasers chain.

Not part of the celly? Having his car stolen.

Great profile piece here on the lovable, rambunctious, often-misunderstood Gardner-Johnson.

Championship Round Preview

49ers at Eagles

There might not be a more important player on the Eagles defense than Gardner-Johnson. The 49ers will try to control the game in the middle of the field with a powerful running game led by Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel and a quick passing attack to George Kittle and Samuel. CJGJ will have to be physical and attack downhill to limit yards after catch. The opportunity to bait rookie sensation Brock Purdy into some bad throws will be there, too.

On the Niners side, I mentioned Jackrabbit earlier. With Ambry Thomas still banged up, I expect Jenkins to once again see action as the fourth corner and on special teams.

Bengals at Chiefs

Evan McPherson was perfect last week in the snow in Buffalo and should be back at full confidence heading into Championship Sunday. Surely he’s hoping for a repeat from last year.

As I expected, Zach Carter’s snaps were cut last week, as the Bengals played more nickel against Josh Allen. It’ll be interesting to see how this week plays out given Patrick Mahomes’ ankle sprain. If the Chiefs commit to running the ball, Carter could see more rotational snaps.

For the Chiefs, Carlos Dunlap will have the opportunity — against a banged-up Bengals offensive line — to put some pressure on Joe Burrow. But that’s only if the Chiefs’ defensive game plan calls for him to bring pressure off the edge on every play.

After watching all of Dunlap’s snaps last week, it appears to me his primary objective hasn’t been getting up the field. He is taking a wider split, perhaps to give his superstar teammate Chris Jones more room to operate in the middle. And many times, he has aborted his rush and served as both a containment spy on the quarterback and a tall presence to try to knock down throws at the line of scrimmage.

On Sunday, I would anticipate more of a normal mix, with Dunlap going hard after Burrow but also serving as a batted-pass specialist. After experiencing the first playoff win of his 13-year career, Dunlap will do whatever it takes to take that final step and get to the Super Bowl — even if earning passage by knocking off the team he spent most of his career with would surely be a bit bittersweet.

Friday was Kadarius Toney’s 24th birthday. A Super Bowl berth was probably his first wish, followed closely by protection for a certain somebody’s ankle, and maybe double-digit touches and a chance for his first postseason touchdown. I think the birthday boy is going to get at least some of those wishes — Mahomes is going to be OK and Toney is going to be a big part of the attack.

Here are all of the Divisional round stats (ranked and tiered in order of performance):

  • Kadarius Toney, KC, WR

Divisional: 5 rec (7 targets), 36 yards, 1 rush, 14 yards, 3 PR, 7.7 avg, 20 snaps (29%), 5 ST snaps (18%)

  • Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, PHI, S

Divisional: 3 tackles, 1 PD, 47 snaps (90%)

  • Kaiir Elam, BUF, CB

Divisional: 4 tackles, 49 snaps (65%)

  • Jawaan Taylor, JAX, RT

Divisional: 61 snaps (100%)

  • Evan McPherson, CIN, K

Divisional: 2/2 FG, Long 28, 3/3 XP

  • Carlos Dunlap, KC, DE

Divisional: 2 tackles, 25 snaps (41%), 3 ST snaps (11%)

  • Jarrad Davis, NYG, LB

Divisional: 5 tackles, 63 snaps (90%)

  • Tommy Townsend, KC, P

Divisional: 4 punts, 50.8 avg

  • Zach Carter, CIN, DT

Divisional: 1 tackle, 16 snaps (25%), 2 ST snaps (9%)

  • Malik Davis, DAL, RB

Divisional: 3 snaps (5%), 16 ST snaps (64%)

  • Dante Fowler, Jr., DAL, OLB

Divisional: 6 snaps (9%)

  • Janoris Jenkins, SF, CB

Divisional: 12 ST snaps (48%)

Practice Squad

  • Fred Johnson, PHI, OL
  • Antonio Callaway, DAL, WR
  • La’Mical Perine, KC, RB