For months, Jernigan was rated higher than Donald on draft boards. But in his latest mock draft, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Donald going ahead of Jernigan for the first time. Kiper slots Donald at No. 14 to the Bears, while he predicts Jernigan will land at No. 16 to the Cowboys. In his previous mock draft, Kiper did not list Donald at all.
So that leads to Monday's topic: Who will get drafted first: Donald or Jernigan? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich weigh in.
Adelson says: Dominating Donald
So Kiper and the other draft experts are finally clueing in to what the rest of us have known for quite some time: Donald is the most dominant inside player available in the draft. Therefore, he must go ahead of Jernigan come May.
That all sounds simple enough, but nothing has come simply or easily for Donald. Overlooked for a majority of his career, Donald finally grabbed headlines with his thoroughly impressive senior season, winning every single major defensive player of the year award in college football. And yet, he was routinely knocked in early draft evaluations for his size.
While it is true Donald does not meet the ideal size requirements for a defensive tackle, it also is true that Donald does not play like most defensive tackles. His size (6-1, 285 pounds), has rarely been a big part of his game. He relies on his quick hands and overall speed to allow him to get past many linemen at the point of attack. Donald clocked a jaw-dropping 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.
He might not weigh 300 pounds, but he is strong and powerful. He had 35 reps on the bench press at the combine, ranking second among all defensive linemen. His propensity for lifting began at age 12, when his father showed him what to do in the family weight room.
Beyond the physical tools, Donald has got a few intangibles that make scouts notice. Donald never ever quits on a play. His work ethic, and time dedicated to watching tape, also make him stand out.
Donald is no dummy. He has heard the knocks about his size since he went largely unrecruited out of high school. Pitt was the only BCS school to offer him a scholarship. So to put the questions about his size to rest, he decided to work harder than everyone, get stronger than everyone, and focus on the unique skill-set that would allow him to dominate at his position.
Even still, those tired old questions followed him after a monstrous senior season at Pitt. But they have been made moot again after standout performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Pitt Pro Day. Donald has proven himself over and over and over again. Skeptics have turned into believers every step of the way.
So when May rolls around, it should not surprise anyone to see Donald go ahead of Jernigan.
Dinich says: Game-changing Jernigan
If Kiper’s prediction is right, the Dallas Cowboys can’t go wrong in drafting Jernigan.
If, of course, the Bears don’t draft him first.
Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Chicago Bears should “sprint to the podium” if Jernigan is still available for the 14th pick. Right now, that’s where Kiper has Pitt’s Aaron Donald headed.
It’s like choosing between five-star resorts. Both players are first-class, but while Donald racked up the individual awards and was the best player on an unheralded team, Jernigan separated himself from a cast of stars on the nation’s best team.
“Timmy was one of the leaders on our defense and a big part of our success these past three seasons,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve been around in all my years coaching.”
Jernigan’s stat line is impressive -- career highs for tackles (63), TFL (11.0) and sacks (4.5) in 14 starts. But it doesn’t completely capture the impact he had as the anchor up front. He wasn’t always the one making the game-changing play, but odds are he had a hand in influencing it.
Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS national championship win over Auburn – in spite of flu-like symptoms - and a career-high 10 tackles in the ACC title game against Duke. While his NFL auditions haven’t increased his draft stock as much as Donald’s, Jernigan is still talented enough to be the ACC’s highest-drafted defensive tackle.
Last year, Jernigan produced his best numbers in spite of being constantly doubleteamed, and the attention he drew opened up opportunities for Florida State’s linebackers and blitzing corners. His versatility is one of his best attributes, but his strength is stopping the run.
He has the ability to shed offensive linemen and was a big reason FSU’s run defense ranked No. 18 in the country. His technique will only improve, and he already has the strength and size to clog the middle.
“I can play a 3-technique, and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard right on the zero,” he said at the NFL Combine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can get pressure from the middle. I feel like that’s where my game changes from everyone else.”
The Bears should jump on the chance to let him prove it.