Nothing was going to get in Tim Jernigan’s way as the stout Florida State nose tackle prepared to play the biggest game of his life in January.
Not the bright lights that accompany the BCS National Championship Game. Not Auburn’s vaunted rushing attack.
And certainly not a slight-but-poorly-timed fever he came down with before the game.
“(I) took meds before the game, I’ve never taken meds before a game or practice, so that kind of fatigued me a little bit,” Jernigan said.
Indeed. By the fourth quarter of Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 win over Auburn, the 6-foot-2, 299-pound Jernigan was so tired he actually ended up missing some key plays down the stretch.
But with everything he did while he was on the field — and according to Pro Football Focus, he played 63 of 82 defensive snaps — it’s safe to say Jernigan proved why he is considered to be a top-50 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. In addition to logging nine tackles and a quarterback hit, Jernigan also logged a team-best overall grade of 5.9.
“Ain’t too many defensive tackles can do it and play at that level, I don’t feel,” Jernigan said.
Several prominent draft analysts agree, including NFL.com’s Mike Mayock and ESPN’s Mel Kiper, who each list Jernigan as their No. 2 defensive tackle (behind Pitt’s Aaron Donald).
“I think Jernigan can step in and be special, early,” Mayock said in February.
Jernigan, who declared for the draft after a junior season in which he logged 53 tackles and five sacks, touts the versatility he displayed at Florida State, which used a multiple defense.
“I feel like now in the NFL, a lot of nose tackles — especially in the three-man front, the big 340 to 350-pound guys — when it’s pass situation, those guys have to come off the field, and I feel like that’s where I can benefit a team,” Jernigan said.
“I’ve played in the shade, I’ve played over the center, I’ve played in the three technique. ... When it’s a pass situation, when you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard, right on the zero. I can get pressure from the middle of the offense.
“I feel like that’s where my game (differs) from anyone else’s.”
Jernigan’s versatility could be attractive to a variety of teams, even ones that run the 3-4 defense like the Chiefs. That defense typically calls for bigger, space-eating nose guards, but NFL.com draft scout Nolan Nawrocki wrote that Jernigan’s anchor strength and athleticism could make him a solid 3-4 movement nose tackle.
Surely, Jernigan’s strong performance against Auburn did nothing to hurt the perception of his talent, though he did have to answer questions about his stamina during the combine.
“I definitely don’t feel like it’s an issue,” Jernigan said. “I played on a team where I only played three full games — no, actually four full games the entire season and I just did what I could with the opportunity.
“But when my number was called, when they needed Jernigan to be in the game, when I knew that I had to be in the game in order for us to win, I was there.”Top 10 prospects for the Chiefs
1. Louis Nix III, 6-2, 331, Notre Dame
Three-year starter who had 27 tackles, two tackles for loss and zero sacks in only eight games in 2013. Is 22 years old. 33-inch arms. 9 7/8-inch hands. 5.42 40-yard dash. 24 bench reps. 25 1/2-inch vertical jump. 97-inch broad jump. 8.29 3-cone drill. 4.94 20-yard shuttle.
Excellent bulk to anchor the middle of a 3-4 defense. Shows surprising quickness off the snap and athleticism. Plays hard when rested. Is not a pass-rush threat.
2. Timmy Jernigan, 6-2, 299, Florida State
First-year starter who had 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 21 years old. 31 5/8-inch arms. 9 5/8-inch hands. 5.06 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 29 1/2-inch vertical jump. 102-inch broad jump. 7.65 3-cone drill. 4.83 20-yard shuttle.
Short arms. Is undersized for a 3-4 nose but possesses very good anchor strength and athleticism vs. the run, though he can be moved by bigger men. Isn’t a great pass rusher.
3. Daniel McCullers, 6-7, 352, Tennessee
Two-year starter who had 33 tackles, 4 1/2 for loss and a half sack in 2013. Is 21 years old. 36 5/8-inch arms. 11-inch hands. 5.30 40-yard dash. 27 bench reps. 20 1/2-inch vertical jump. 97-inch broad jump. 7.99 3-cone drill. 5.09 20-yard shuttle.
A mountain of a man who engulfs opposing linemen with his rare size and length. Commands a double team. Slow get off. Has limited range and pass-rush ability.
4. Shamar Stephen, 6-5, 309, Connecticut
Two-year starter who had 60 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 33 1/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.25 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 30 1/2-inch vertical jump. 103-inch broad jump. 7.81 3-cone drill. 4.89 20-yard shuttle.
Good size and is light on his feet. Has strength to anchor vs. the double team, though he can be moved. Effort could improve.
5. Zach Kerr, 6-1, 326, Delaware
Two-year starter who had 57 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks in 2013. 32 7/8-inch arms. 9 3/4-inch hands. 5.08 40-yard dash. 28 bench reps. 28 1/2-inch vertical jump. 99-inch broad jump. 7.93 3-cone drill. 4.71 20-yard shuttle.
Only OK athleticism but is aggressive and quick off the ball and often finds himself in the action. Needs to get stronger.
6. Justin Ellis, 6-1, 334, Louisiana Tech
Three-year starter who had 48 tackles, 5 1/2 tackles for loss and 1/2 sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 33-inch arms. 10 1/8-inch hands. 5.27 40-yard dash. 25 bench reps. 28-inch vertical jump. 92-inch broad jump. 7.81 3-cone drill. 4.75 20-yard shuttle.
Big, strong anchor who seems to play hard but doesn't have any pass rush ability. Has had trouble managing his weight.
7. Ryan Carrethers, 6-1, 337, Arkansas State
Three-year starter who had 93 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 2013. Is 23 years old. 31 3/4-inch arms. 9 3/8-inch hands. 5.47 40-yard dash. 32 bench reps. 26-inch vertical jump. 88-inch broad jump. 7.89 3-cone drill. 4.60 20-yard shuttle.
Possesses good bulk but has short arms. Can get moved on the double team but possesses the ability to anchor. Plays hard. Didn’t test well, outside of the bench press.
8. Mike Pennel, 6-4, 332, Colorado State-Pueblo
First-year starter who had 36 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. 33 3/8-inch arms. 8 7/8-inch hands. 5.23 40-yard dash. 23 bench reps. 28 1/2-inch vertical jump. 102-inch broad jump. 7.94 3-cone drill. 4.84 20-yard shuttle.
Great size and length. Possesses strength to anchor vs. run. Only decent get off. Was suspended twice at Arizona State before he transferred.
9. Robert Thomas, 6-1, 327, Arkansas
First-year starter who had 31 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3 1/2 sacks before he got hurt in 2013. 33 7/8-inch arms. 10-inch hands. 5.31 40-yard dash. 32 bench reps. 25 1/2-inch vertical jump. 96-inch broad jump. 8.05 3-cone drill. 5.07 20-yard shuttle.
Good size and length but has only OK athleticism and limited range. Can occasionally be overpowered. Plays hard. Had surgery in October after breaking his leg.
10. Beau Allen, 6-2, 333, Wisconsin
Two-year starter who had 20 tackles, two tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks in 2013. Did not run a 40 due to a hamstring injury. 30 bench reps. 31-inch vertical jump. 104-inch broad jump. 7.27 3-cone drill. 4.50 20-yard shuttle.
Plays hard, gives effort. Durable big body with limited range. Needs to improve pass rush.
*All evaluations and rankings are based largely on multiple draft profiles ― thanks to NFL.com, ESPN.com, CBSSports.com and DraftNasty's 2014 NFL Draft Manual ― interviews with draft analysts and the author’s own film evaluations. Measurements and testing results are from the combine and pro days, according to the resources listed above and nfldraftscout.com.