NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
In the coming weeks and months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this seventh installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
Timmy Jernigan is hard to miss – not only for his 6’1”, 299-pound frame and tight-fitting untucked jersey, but for his disruptive nature at the defensive tackle position.
It’s been evident dating back to his days at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., where a large No. 8 amassed 77 tackles, 32 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and one interception as a senior in 2010, also adding four touchdowns on offense.
Jernigan found himself recognized as a five-star recruit. He was ranked the fourth-best defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com. He was ranked the second-best defensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com. He was ranked 17th overall on the ESPNU 150. He was named All-USA first-team defense by USA Today. He was a 2011 U.S. Army All-American.
And not long after, he was a Florida State Seminole.
Jernigan enrolled in nearby Tallahassee in the fall of 2011, seeing the field as a true freshman that season. In a reserve capacity, Jernigan logged snaps in all 13 games, registering 30 tackles, six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery. He earned first-team Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association of America in result.
As a sophomore in 2012, Jernigan took a step forward in role and performance. He started two games while playing in 13 to notch 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as Florida State finished second in total defense.
It wasn’t, however, until 2013 that it all came together for Jernigan. The junior shifted from rotational duties to full-time starter. And while the uptick left him fatigued at times, it also left him revealing flashes of dominance. Over 14 starts, Jernigan recorded 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. And as the Seminoles capped off the year with a top-18 run defense and a national championship, Jernigan was named first-team All-ACC and first-team All-American by ESPN.
With the skill set to fight through double-teams, occupy gaps and knife into the pocket, Jernigan forged into conversation as one of the country’s top interior defensive linemen in 2013. And on Jan. 9, the 21-year-old expanded the conversation by declaring for the 2014 NFL draft.
A strong-armed, quick-footed, flexible nose tackle, shade or three-technique prospect, Jernigan is expected to be a first-round selection this May. And while he may be undersized for those responsibilities at the next level, he may not last until pick 29 overall, either.
Jernigan’s ability to fit in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense should, nevertheless, draw the interest of an organization like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the film behind the Seminole, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
Unsteady Off Snap, But a Quick, Ripping Pass-Rusher
Jernigan is not in the mold of an NFL nose tackle; he steps on the scale around 30 pounds lighter. He can face challenges against double-teams and combo-blockers because of it.
Off the snap, Jernigan seems to take a while to get going. He is a bit of an enigma in that sense, because he is regarded as a gifted athlete. Whether it was his assignment as a nose to diagnose pass protection, whether it was his conditioning, or whether it was simply a lag in reaction remains unknown. But Jernigan was often the last one off the Seminoles line.
From there, he had a tendency to shift upright directly out of his stance, which had an adverse effect on his leverage and could send him back into linebacker territory instead of into the quarterback.
If a team is looking for the next Vince Wilfork, they won’t find it in Jernigan. That’s not his build, nor is it his game. Jernigan is scheme-diverse, though, playing in Florida State’s 4-3, 3-4 hybrid front seven.
His duty in that system was predominantly nose, yet it would be remiss to overlook his success in pass defense at the one-technique, two-technique, three-technique and even four-technique.
Although he is prone to taking wide angles on stunts and loops – which could be a byproduct of lower-body stiffness – Jernigan is nimble on his feet. He is agile through cut and side blocks, exuding impressive effort, chase and downhill closing speed in the process.
While Jernigan is smaller than the position he plays – and is less rangy than most – his strength and quickness allow him to play bigger than his size. He shows respectable lateral movement, and he compliments that with violent rip and swim moves to shoot the A-gaps.
But coexisting with those traits are Jernigan’s heavy, sudden hands. They are often seen when he knocks down a lineman’s block replacement. And most prominently, they are seen when he latches onto a lineman’s shoulder pads before swiping into the passer’s foreground.
This was illustrated on Sept. 28, as the Seminoles journeyed to Alumni Stadium to face the Boston College Eagles in Chestnut Hill.
Down 48-34 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Boston College offense dispersed in a five-wide set, sending senior quarterback Chase Rettig out in shotgun without the element of surprise.
The Eagles were going to the air, and the Seminoles knew it. The FSU front countered with a 4-2 nickel package, shipping seven into coverage and four into the pocket.
Jernigan loomed in the left A-gap, separating 6’5”, 310-pound left guard Bobby Vardaro from 6’3”, 302-pound center Andy Gallik.
Rettig took the empty-backfield snap and dropped back to assess the pivot, curl and vertical routes before him.
On the other side of the line, Jernigan stuttered his feet and extended his arms to veer into the opposite A-gap.
With the left guard uncovered and pass protection widening, Jernigan bent his knees. He gripped Gallik’s right shoulder with one hand, knocking down a chest plate punch with the other.
And as the center’s waist began to slant forward, the one-tech made his move. Gallik was caught flat-footed as Jernigan dipped underneath through the right A-gap.
From there, he picked up speed and forced the senior signal-caller’s hand.
Rettig shuffled outside the hashes to buy time and room to throw, but options were growing limited.
As Jernigan depleted the inside, right defensive end Desmond Hollin hung in the arc long enough to jump the scramble, sacking the 6’3”, 206-pound QB for a 10-yard loss.
Jernigan’s inside pressure and pursuit served as a catalyst.
In many ways, Jernigan isn’t the prototypical pocket-pusher. He can be halted by offensive linemen that beat him to the punch. He can also get overextended and pulled to the ground. So when it comes to how his game will translate against bigger, faster, stronger and more technical NFL competition, there are underlying areas of concern.
Yet for all intents and purposes, Jernigan brings a wrestling dynamic to passing situations. He knows how to utilize his hands, and he knows how to put himself in a position to impact. And while he has only been a three-down player for one year, Jernigan’s has created opportunities for his teammates over the last three years.
He will use hands to dislodge. He will use his 1.72 10-yard split speed to flush quarterbacks from the pocket. He will use his converted power to finish plays. And for defensive tackle who’s not stationed to a single technique, those qualities show signs of promise.
Showing those qualities consistently is where there’s room to grow for him as a pass-rusher.
An Undersized But Energized, Block-Shedding Run-Stuffer
Jernigan benched 27 reps of 225 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, but his functional strength is what prevails in run defense. He likely wouldn’t align his head over the center otherwise.
Now Jernigan remains susceptible to larger, mauling blockers. Though he can pancake with a road-grading bull rush, there are times when he can disappear from the game. There are times when he can be consumed or out-leveraged.
Much of that traces back to his get-off and perhaps his stamina. But when you watch Jernigan versus run, the most prominent attribute he brings to the table is also showcased versus the pass.
He stacks and shreds.
Jernigan is adept at keeping the play in front of him. He stays parallel to the line of scrimmage to maintain gap integrity. He is anticipatory in reading the blocker’s intentions. He squares to his assignment. And he is sure to leave himself an escape route as he locates the ball.
At that juncture, it is up to timing and power. He employs his short but stout 31 5/8-inch arms to bench and shed the block, carving into the backfield. Yet if the situation calls for it, he can also sit back in his block and wait to disengage before pouncing on ball-carriers.
The former was evidenced at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Panthers on Sept. 3.
Down 21 with a minute left in the third quarter, the Panthers assembled in “21” personnel for a fake jet sweep, inside-zone run. In this design, QB Tom Savage was set to exchange with 6’2”, 230-pound halfback James Conner, on a a potential cutback run through the right side of the line.
But with it being a zone run, three of Pittsburgh’s offensive linemen were readying to combo-block into the second level of Florida State’s 3-4 defense.
That put Jernigan right in the teeth of two blocks. He crouched in the nose.
As Savage handled the snap and stepped back for the handoff, the Panthers blockers went on their way. 6’2”, 305-pound center Artie Rowell brushed into Jernigan’s left shoulder on his way to the left outside linebacker; 6’5”, 310-pound left guard Ryan Schlieper brushed into Jernigan’s right shoulder on his way to the linebackers as well.
Despite that, Jernigan was in good position to deflect them. He dug in and established first contact, contracting his elbows to eventually expand space.
Jernigan did expand the space, just as the tailback received the football.
He thrust his arms outward, while the center thrust into the zone of linebackers. By working succinctly, he was able to capitalize, slicing between the transition point of the two blocks.
Jernigan then proceeded to shove the redshirt senior in the back, propelling him towards the rusher.
That responsiveness and physicality thinned the play’s matchups. What was once 11-on-11 became one-on-one.
It was the accelerating Jernigan and the true freshman, Conner.
Jernigan evened his hips and wrapped Conner high, halting the ball-carrier in his tracks.
The two met two yards behind the line. Yet by the time forward progress was a certainty, the two were nine yards deep.
He was still holding onto the tackle.
Jernigan is explosive when he drops his pad level. When he gets heading up, down or through the line, he does so with a purpose. And, when he’s at his best, he can make tackles behind the line or 20 yards down the field.
His run defense is currently ahead of his pass rush, which is often the case for interior defensive lineman. But in time, the gap between the two could start to dwindle due to his innate tools.
If you watch the right sequence of plays, you’re led to believe it already is.
When you think about adding an edge to a defense, you think about a prospect like Timmy Jernigan. At the end of the day, he is not built to be an ideal 3-4 NFL nose tackle; he is built to be a strong, forceful run-clogger who can also impede the passing game.
Jernigan plays with an aggressive nature, charging through open space to jump on piles and deliver deciding hits. He plays fast through the point of attack, even if he often starts slow off the snap. And he plays hard, triumphing through a fever leading up to the BCS title game, and overcoming sickness to anchor the Seminoles defense during it.
A team could find value in those features anywhere from pick 14 to 32. Because, if nothing else, Jernigan’s playing style should carry over against NFL offensive linemen.
It should, whether he’s an undersized nose tackle or not.