Cowboys 2014 Draft Targets: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, its important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we'll look at FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

Timmy Jernigan made an immediate splash in Tallahassee, seeing action in all 13 games in 2011 and going on to earn Freshman All-America honors. The following season, he started two of 13 games, recording 46 stops and finishing fourth on the Seminoles with eight tackles for loss. His promising career suffered a nasty hiccup the following season, however; an MCL injury in spring practice kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2012 campaign. His 2013 season was awash in questions. Would Jernigan bounce back from his injury? How would he be after Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins all left to play on Sundays. He bounced back quite well, thank you very much, starting all fourteen games en route to a national championship, and garnering First Team All-ACC and Second Team All-American laurels.

Jernigan plays with an impressive blend of quickness and power. He's light on his feet for a 300-pounder, with smooth hips and sufficient fluidity to pursue the ball along the line of scrimmage. Jernigan has active hands, but could use them better to shed and penetrate. As a result, he flashes pass rush upside, but it hasn't been realized yet. There's plenty of evidence on tape; the Pharoahs of Film at Draft Breakdown have thirteen - thirteen! - cut-up FSU games.  What to focus on from this staggering array of options? How about the Florida or Nevada games, where he faced off against NFL prospects John Halapio and Joel Bitonio, respectively?

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Okay, enough squawking; let's see what our panelists think of Jernigan:

Dane Brugler (NFLDraftScout.com): 4th-ranked DT; no overall grade

Strengths: Powerfully-built with well-proportioned upper and lower body bulk – excellent core strength…quick-footed with smooth hips and a fluid body type to win with his athleticism – light, lateral movements to work up and down the LOS…plays with a relentless motor and the chase speed to make plays away from the middle of the LOS…flexible with natural bend to stay low and play with good hip snap…active hands and shifty footwork to sidestep and collapse gaps…can anchor vs. multiple blockers…improved ball awareness with good backfield vision and non-stop alertness…versatile experience, lining up mostly at the 1-technique, but also saw significant snaps at the 0-, 2- and 5-technique spots…productive 2013 season, finishing third on the team in tackles (63) and as the only Seminole with double-digit tackles for loss (11.0) – earned Second Team All-ACC honors.

Weaknesses: Only average body type with narrow shoulders, shorter arms and smaller hands…needs to improve his snap anticipation to take advantage of his first step quickness – too often was the last DL to move off the ball…technique is still developing and needs to improve his hand placement to better shed once engaged at the POA – pass rush moves are still a work-in-progress…needs to do a better job closing and breaking down in space to finish…part of a heavy rotation in college and wasn’t asked to be an every down player…didn’t become a full-time starter until his junior season.

Summary: A four-star DL recruit out of high school, Timmy Jernigan committed to Florida State over LSU, Alabama, Tennessee and Florida. Despite starting only two games as a freshman and sophomore in Tallahassee, he saw significant snaps as part of a heavy rotation, combining for 75 total tackles. Jernigan became a full-time starter in 2013 as a junior and set career-bests across the board with 63 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, earning Second Team All-ACC honors. He stays light on his feet with good movement skills for a 300-pound frame, displaying the motor and relentless attitude desired from an interior player. Jernigan has strong, active hands with the core strength and natural leverage to bully blockers, but needs to improve his technique to better shed and counter blockers initial punch. He lined up in several spots in college and isn’t scheme-dependent, but projects best as a one-gapping 1-technique in a 4-3 – early second round grade and he might not have Pro Bowl potential, but should be a steady starter.

Gary Horton (ESPN.com): 4th-ranked DT; 22nd overall

Versus the Run: Lacks ideal height and bulk.  Not big enough to two-gap and short arms cause problems versus long-levered OL. Is quick, stout and productive one-gapper.  Plays with natural knee bend.  Very effective stacking, locating and quickly disengaging.  Anchors well one-on-one and flashes ability to split double teams. Surprisingly strong with low center of gravity. Shoots hands inside and is strong up top. Disruptive and makes plays in backfield. Has good awareness and locates ball quickly.  Only decent redirect skills but still above-average range thanks in large part to effort. Is a smart run defender; knows when to give up leverage in order to disengage and pursue.  Also is a strong open-field tackler for position.

Pass Rush Skills: Just average get-off quickness as a pass rusher.  Flashes effective rip and swim moves. Accelerates when disengaging from blocks and shows good closing burst to QB.  Adequate bull rusher.  Frequently collapses pocket with bull rush but needs to recognize when to disengage and finish. Very good motor when pursuing quarterback but not as consistently aggressive on passing downs as he is versus run.  Lot of wasted upper-body movement as pass rusher. College pass rush production was underwhelming (6 sacks and no forced fumbles in final two seasons).

Quickness (hands/ feet): Hands are not overly violent but they're extremely quick.  Very effective with rip and swim moves.  Good first-step quickness but not elite.  Light on feet.

Toughness/ Motor: Teams commit two blockers to him.  Only knock here is that he needs to improve stamina. Gives great effort most of game but is prone to wearing down despite heavy rotation.

Intangibles: Above-average work ethic and desire to get better. Student of the game. Jernigan has made questionable comments on Twitter and maturity needs to be investigated further.  Heard from multiple teams that he was "not authentic" and "too rehearsed" during combine interviews.  Will be a 21-year old rookie.

Dan Shonka (Ourlads): 2nd-ranked DT; 28th overall

Junior entry. Sixteen starts over his career. An inside running lane road block. Top level inside instincts and agility. Good lateral quickness and hand use to stack and shed head-on running plays. Plays low and with leverage to hold his ground. A one-gap disruptive penetrator. Good interior instincts and tackle-to-tackle agility. Works through traffic to make a play. Presses the pocket and gets upfield push. Can also be a quick penetrator. Plays on his feet with good flexibility, base and quick hands. Plays the inside gaps, mostly lining up over center. Smaller than the typical nose tackle, but plays low and powerful, making him tough to push back. Has outstanding footwork. Incredible quickness and speed for the position. Does a nice job of sending the initial punch with a strong pair of hands, keeping his base low so he can control the engagement with the blocker. Well-developed technique, knows how to get off blocks using moves and positioning. Will need to develop more lower body strength before being relied upon against NFL linemen. A disruptor who has several ways to beat a blocker. Despite his less than ideal height/ weight numbers, he can play multiple roles along any defensive front.

Nolan Nawrocki (NFL.com): 2nd-ranked NT; no overall grade

Strengths: Strong for his size and clogs the middle. Has disruptive ability. Bends his knees and plays with leverage. Able to stack, locate and shed. Wraps and rips down ball carriers. Coordinated hands and feet. Is difficult to engage -- has quick, active paws. Can slap, rip and swim to beat blockers and turns up the heat on passing downs. Good foot athlete for his size -- changes direction well, gives effort in pursuit and ranges outside the box. Will be a 21-year-old rookie.

Weaknesses: Has a fleshy midsection. Lacks ideal height and overall body length. Average get-off. Can be overpowered at the point or neutralized when bigger, longer blockers get into his frame. Limited two-gap ability. Average playing range. Stiff-legged and does not change direction easily, as confirmed by 4.84-second 20-yard shuttle time at the combine (tied for slowest among DTs). Could stand to improve his stamina. Was a rotational player prior to junior season.

Draft Projection: Rounds 1-2

Bottom Line: Slightly undersized, stoutly built, country-strong run stopper with the ability to drop anchor inside an odd front and develop into a solid, 3-4 movement nose tackle. Strength is his calling card, despite his relatively modest size.

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While not all of our estimable panelists have an overall grade for Jernigan, they nonetheless seem to grade him fairly tightly--between picks 22 and, say 35. In other words, he's scheduled to be picked early in "the bend," roughly the last ten picks of the first round or the first handful in round two. And that's where I'm gonna put him, too - in the "round one, trade down" category, with guys like Ryan Shazier, Kony Ealy and perhaps Demarcus Lawrence.

For a team with the 16th and 47th overall picks, Jernigan is nestled neatly in no-man's land. To draft him, the Cowboys will either a) have to reach at #16; b) cross their fingers and close their eyes, hoping he falls to #47 or c) trade back to the point where they can find that delicious sweet spot where value meets need. If they pick him at #16, I'm likely to be a bit disappointed, as there will almost surely be a better layer still on the board. If they can finagle a trade back to, say, #26 and walk away with Jernigan? I'll be a happy.

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Later today: Now that you've seen how the national draftniks rate Jernigan, stay tuned for our in-house scout, Joey Ickes, who will post a detailed film study of the former Seminole to add to what you already know.

Tomorrow: Arizona State defensive tackle Will Sutton

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