Florida State University Seminoles
Lake City, Florida
Columbia High School
While the high energy nose guard is likely to play in a 4-3 defensive scheme rather than align over the center's head, Jernigan is such a disruptive force once he gets into the backfield, that wherever he plays on the line at the next level, expect him to bring his "take no prisoners" approach. While most nose guards are stocky beef-eaters who can rival Sumo wrestlers in girth, Jernigan takes the "lean, mean fighting machine" approach to his overall game plan.
Few blockers have had any success stopping Jernigan when he explodes through the gaps and, while there are some size mismatches when he bull rushers vs. interior offensive linemen, he is a natural hands fighter who keeps himself very active utilizing swim and spin moves to force his way into the backfield to collapse the pocket.
Jernigan's lateral agility is ideally suited for the under-tackle position, as he works well in unison with his defensive ends and has more than enough burst to handle guards in one-on-one situations. He also has enough short area quickness (1.76-second 10-yard dash) to cover and handle tight ends and slot receivers working underneath.
Evident by his performance last season, his first as a full-time starter, Jernigan showed very good ability to line up vs. the opposing center and the weak-side guard to stall the traps and pulls from the opponent's interior blockers. In a 4-3 defensive set, nose tackles are rather quick and supposed to "shoot the 'A gap'" and beat those blockers while pushing them back into the pocket. That, he does with great success, recording 25 tackles-for-loss as a Seminole.
Some scouts compare Jernigan's ability to that of Hall of Famer Warren Sapp, but don't tell the junior defensive lineman that. He much rather hear the names of former FSU standouts like Ron Simmons, Cory Simon, Darnell Dockett, Broderick Bunkley and Tank Johnson than being compared to a Hurricane. After all, he is a Seminole standout, through and through.
Jernigan knows all about the great defensive tackles that came before him at Florida State. He respects what they accomplished. He just wants to be better than all of them. "I want to be the best defensive tackle that ever played here," Jernigan said. "I don't want to be nothing short of that. I'm going to work every day to become that."
Big words and big goals, but it comes from a big-time talent that is almost assured of being a first day draft selection. Even on a defensive line that featured a number of future NFL pros during his three seasons at the school, the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Jernigan has a way of standing out.
Before the five-star defensive lineman joined the Florida State program, he starred at Columbia High School, where he was rated the fourth-best defensive tackle in the nation by Scout.com.
As a sophomore, Jernigan was named Class 4A All-State by the Florida Sports Writers Association and was an All-Area choice by the Gainesville Sun. During his first two seasons, he had posted 131 tackles with 12 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries, advancing two of them for touchdowns.
As a senior, Jernigan recorded 77 tackles, 32 behind the line of scrimmage, including 14 sacks and one interception. Used as a short-yardage running back, he also produced four touchdowns in goal-line snaps. The U.S. Army All-American added All-USA first-team defense recognition from USA Today and was named to the 2010 All-First Coast first-team by the Florida Times-Union.
Jernigan was a member of the Times-Union's Super 75 where he was rated as the top defensive tackle. He placed eighth on Super Prep's Florida 110 list and ranked fifth on Bill Buchalter's 2011 Florida Top 100 list for the Orlando Sentinel. He also finished ninth on the Mobile Press-Register Super Southeast 120 and 41st on Tom Lemming's MaxPreps.com 2011 Top 100 squad.
For a player that was always a Seminole fan, it was only a formality when Jernigan accepted a scholarship from Florida State over offers from Louisiana State, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. During his true freshman season in 2011, he consistently showed flashes of dominance, splitting double-teams to make a tackle in the backfield or slamming down a quarterback, all with the quickness and jersey number (No. 8) of a player much smaller.
Despite not starting any of the 13 games he appeared in, he still led the FSU down linemen with 30 tackles, adding 2.5 sacks, six stops-for-loss and a trio of QB pressures (two caused interceptions). That performance earned Jernigan a number of Freshman All-American honors.
Of all the great defensive tackles that have played at Florida State — including Jernigan's position coach, Odell Haggins — perhaps only Hall of Famer Ron Simmons, the man given credit for the evolution of the nose guard position, had a better debut season than Jernigan. "Not really surprised," Jernigan said of his freshman production. "I'm confident in myself. Very confident. Not really cocky. But I have confidence in me, and my coaches had confidence in me. So I kind of knew what was coming."
And naturally, the Lake City native expected to be better as a sophomore. Because of the depth and talent Florida State has on the defensive line, Jernigan knew it would be difficult for him to rack up the eye-popping numbers some of his predecessors did. He didn't care.
"My biggest thing is being more consistent," Jernigan said. "And never taking plays off. A lot of the goals, like just stats and that type of thing, that will come. My biggest thing is just never taking a play off and being there for my teammates more. And I feel like everything else will fall into place if I can accomplish that."
Being there for his teammates was something Jernigan had to think about over the 2012 summer, as well. The former U.S. Army All-American's eligibility came into question as classes wound down in August, and head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff had to wait on final grades to be posted before they knew for sure their immensely talented tackle would be available for his sophomore campaign.
On August 15th, when the results came back, everyone associated with the Florida State football team - from coaches to players to fans - breathed a sigh of relief. "I knew that I had to grind even harder to get the work done and be there for my teammates," Jernigan said. "I knew I had it under control the entire time."
With attention is back to the field, Jernigan knew what kind of legacy those previous defensive tackles left at Florida State. And he knew how special it would be to be mentioned in their company some day. "I was well aware before I came here what kind of players played here before me," Jernigan said. "And that's what made me want to come here even more. That's what made me want to push myself to do even better and be even better. Because we've had some good ones come through here."
Jernigan only started two games as a sophomore, but delivered 46 tackles with eight stops coming behind the line of scrimmage, which ranked fourth on the team. He was named MVP of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game, as he made a pair of crucial stops behind the line of scrimmage, including his only unassisted sack vs. Georgia Tech.
Jernigan emerged as a dominating force in 2013, guiding the Seminoles to the national championship behind his career-high 63 tackles. He led the team with 11 stops-for-loss, finishing second on the unit with 4.5 sacks. He was a consensus All-American and unanimous All-ACC first-team choice. His ability to consistently handle double-team coverage saw Florida State's linebackers and cornerbacks have great success blitzing around the edge, as the Seminoles closed out the season undefeated.
Three days after Florida State defeated Auburn for the national championship, Jernigan announced that his time at Florida State had come to an end and he was entering the 2014 NFL Draft. "I feel I am the most versatile defensive lineman in the draft," Jernigan told ESPN's Joe Schad. "Some team will get an athletic, hard-working lineman who attacks, plays smart and doesn't come off the field."
Jernigan was essential in quieting Auburn's up-tempo running game during the middle of the BCS National Championship, allowing Florida State to chip away at a 21-3 deficit. When he was sidelined late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers quickly marched down the field for a score.
Jernigan started 16 of the forty contests that he appeared in at Florida State — his final 14 games at nose guard and his first two at weak-side defensive tackle…Finished with 139 tackles (73 solos), making 8.5 sacks for minus 63 yards, 25.0 stops for losses totaling 104 yards and six quarterback pressures…Also advanced a fumble recovery 12 yards and deflected one pass.