Timmy Jernigan came into this season as the most highly rated prospect on the Florida State defensive line after defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Cornellius Carradine went in the first two rounds of the draft this past year. Last year, Jernigan was still figuring out what he was doing as a player and tipping his pitches too much. This year, he did not tip his pitches as much and became outstanding with his hands, showcasing more than just trying to use his swim move on every opponent. After the Seminoles’ national championship win, Jernigan opted to declare for the NFL Draft.
For the NFL, Jernigan is not quite a finished product, but he is an exciting one because he is a two-gap defensive tackle that can also rush the passer. His length and bulk are not ideal, but his hand use and leverage are pretty consistent. Jernigan’s stamina is something that needs to improve, but he should be able to play the run and help contribute as a pass rusher. As a result, Jernigan warrants a top 50 pick, but could end up going in the first round if the defensive linemen start flying off of the shelves, especially to a 4-3 team looking for a versatile nose guard.
Vitals & Build
Jernigan measured 6’1 5/8” 299lbs at the scouting combine with an arm length of 31 5/8”. His power and functional strength are impressive, but his length will raise questions for some teams. His athleticism, overall, is notable for his position, but he will get gassed at times. His long speed and agility are good, but he can have some issues with his initial burst. His motor generally runs pretty well, but can get cold at times. Jernigan’s potential strength is getting more balanced and improving the strength in his midsection so he can hold up better when dealing with contact not directly in front of him.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Jernigan’s snap anticipation is inconsistent. There are times when he is right on and times when he is half a beat late. Some of this is due to his stance and the fact that Jernigan will use a frog stance in addition to a flat backed three-point stance.
His explosiveness is far more impressive from a three-point stance while the frog stance makes it more difficult for him to get his momentum going forward. Jernigan can work to keep fine tuning his timing of the snap.
His step varies with his stance as well, but he can have trouble getting much distance with his first step and being terribly fast. Once Jernigan can pick up some momentum, he gets much faster and picks up a great deal of speed.
Jernigan displays advanced hand usage and it really shows in how he is able to take on and shed blocks. Perhaps partly as a result of his less than ideal length, Jernigan can do a great job of playing behind his hands, maximizing his leverage and showing speed with his hands. As a result, he can win with power and just leverage opponents into the backfield or use quick moves like a rip or swim and slip past the opponent.
His lack of length does make it so he will have trouble when opponents are able to get into his body, but Jernigan is often successful because he gets his hands on the opponent first and dictates the action from the start, making the blocker react to him.
Jernigan can be a good two-gap defensive tackle, but the results can vary. He has shown he can stand up a couple of blockers and hold his ground well. Jernigan is strong enough and powerful enough to demand that kind of attention when he has a good body angle and lean. He can get overextended and that gets him off balance and opens him up to be knocked down from an angle.
Jernigan has shown that he can disengage, find the ball carrier and make a stop. Occasionally, Jernigan will slip blocks, dart into the backfield and blow up the play before it gets started, which looks incredibly impressive.
However, when he does that and he is wrong, opponents can basically make it work like they are blocking a screen. They let Jernigan go up the field, run right by the play while they just keep going up the field and take out the linebackers at the second level, creating a path for a huge run. There are a number of these situations where Jernigan trying to be aggressive and make a play ends up with a 20+ yard gain by the opponent.
The fact that Jernigan is athletic enough to make those type of plays is impressive, but he has to do his job first which is usually forcing the opponent to double him, so the backers can fly around and make plays.
Jernigan has good range and is able to work down the line effectively, negotiating blocks and using his arm to protect himself from blocks. He will occasionally surprise opponents with how far he can get and occasionally will find himself in the C gap getting involved in the play.
When opponents are able to catch him at an angle or get him off balance, they can drive him backward and knock him down and create a play. These situations are not terribly common, but they do happen. The times Jernigan fulfills his responsibility, he can be an extremely disruptive force that really keys the rest of the Seminole run defense.
Jernigan does offer the ability to rush the passer from a nose tackle position or slid out to a wider spot like a 2 or 3-technique. While Jernigan is not ideal to have in obvious passing situations, he is perfectly able to contribute as a pass rusher when an opponent passes in situations that would have a more run oriented personnel grouping on the field.
Jernigan’s initial quickness can be less than ideal, but once he can get his momentum going, his quick hands and ability to bull rush from good leverage allows him to drive blockers into the backfield, disengage and sack the passer. His wide body and quickness can make him a little tough to predict and make it more difficult for the quarterback to escape the pocket up the middle. Jernigan is able to react and has pretty good range to reach and take down quarterbacks who underestimate his athleticism.
The Seminoles were not afraid to use Jernigan on stunts, sending him on wraps around the end or just going behind another tackle. He was fast enough and athletic enough where he could bend around the edge and could get to the quarterback and make the play; a testament to his overall athletic ability despite being a nose.
Jernigan is not someone who a team is looking for specifically to bring in to rush the passer, but a team is certainly not losing a significant amount of rush ability when teams look to throw the ball and he is on the field.
Jernigan is best suited to play nose guard in a 4-3 scheme, lining up in the 1-gap between the center and guard. He could function in an odd front and did that job for the Seminoles quite a bit, but his bulk is not ideal for that position and the athleticism he possesses would be somewhat wasted in that scheme.
While his primary job is still going to be demand blocks and draw double teams, he is athletic enough where he can pick up sacks and win with quickness at times. Depending on the team that gets him, Jernigan is either going to start early in his career or will be in early off of the bench.
Jernigan’s game is quite similar to Jurrell Casey of the Tennessee Titans. Casey came out of USC in that same hybrid defensive tackle build that was better suited for nose but had the athleticism to rush the passer. This year, Casey had a career year and really broke out as a player, which is what could happen with Jernigan, who had a great year in college.
Timmy Jernigan flashed dominance at times this year, but was also inconsistent. He showed he could be a terrific 2-gap defender that demanded double teams while being a viable pass rusher. Jernigan needs to get better in his midsection to help make his first step more effective as well as increasing his stamina, but his hand use and leverage tend to be good and really allow him to win up front. He should go in the top 50 picks, but could be a first round pick to a team in search of a good 1-tech nose guard who is not a waste when teams opt to pass.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com