With Henry Melton and Nate Collins soon to hit free agency, the Chicago Bears could end up making wholesale changes at defensive tackle this offseason. Jeremiah Ratliff, who played well down the stretch, will also test the open market and Stephen Paea is entering the last year of his rookie contract.
GM Phil Emery wants to inject youth into Chicago's defense. Considering the need at defensive tackle, it's very likely he'll draft an interior defender with the 14th overall pick in this year's draft.
Many analysts have pegged Florida State's Timmy Jernigan as a player that could immediately upgrade the Bears' defensive line. Jernigan finished his junior season with 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks, and led the BCS-Champion Seminoles with 11 tackles for loss. He was named first-team All-ACC and a second-team AP All-American.
We broke down game film from Jernigan's 2013 season. Here's what we found.
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
Timmy Jernigan (Junior) (6-2, 298)First-Team All-ACC, Second-Team AP All-American.
Projected: 1st Round
Jernigan isn't going to wow you with his athletic physique, as much of his 298 pounds is located around his waist. Yet he's extremely light on his feet for a player of his size. His thickness around the middle and in his legs allows him to anchor at the point of attack, even against double teams.
What stands out most about Jernigan is his hand usage. He's outstanding at using his hands and arms to create and keep separation from blockers. He also has very quick rip and swim moves, with the upper body strength to toss offensive linemen to the ground. He doesn't explode off the snap but when he gains leverage, he can drive a blocker on his back.
Jernigan tracks the ball well and reacts quickly to ball carriers as they hit the line of scrimmage. Against blockers with balance issues, he can dominate.
On occasion, Jernigan will fire off the snap and penetrate in the backfield but more often than not, he's hesitant with his first step and it takes him time to get in the backfield. For that reason, he was very inconsistent as a pass rusher, particularly later in games when he seemed to wear down. Conditioning could be an issue. He didn't show much straight-line speed and he's not a sideline-to-sideline player.
In his first year as a starter last season, Jernigan emerged as one of the premiere run-stuffing defensive tackles in the league. His combination of immense power and quickness is uncanny for someone so big. When you throw in his highly efficient hand usage, which sent numerous blockers on their face last year, you end up with a player who has the potential to be dominant at the next level.
Jernigan has a rare skill set. He's raw but with some good coaching, he could develop into a force in the NFL. On film, it appeared his biggest issues were conditioning and inconsistently firing off the snap. When he did pin his ears back, he was able to pressure the quarterback with ease but his hesitancy at the line of scrimmage left a lot of plays on the field. If he ever puts it all together, he'll be special.
Many believe Jernigan can be an effective 3-technique in a 4-3 system, which is why he's been linked to the Bears in a lot of mock drafts. Yet the film shows a player who might be better suited at nose tackle, considering his ability to anchor against the run. He may be able to develop into a penetrating under tackle but he's not there yet. Right now, he looks like a quicker version of Stephen Paea, with much more potential.
If Emery selects Jernigan with the 14th overall pick, he will immediately upgrade the team's run defense, which ranked 32nd in the league last year. There's no doubt Jernigan can fill gaps and eat space at the next level. He's a work in progress as a pass rusher but his ceiling is extremely high.
Jernigan addresses the defense's biggest deficiency at Chicago's biggest position of need. If he sitting there at 14, Emery should snatch him up.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is entering his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.