Chicago Bears: Timmy Jernigan

Timmy JerniganMelina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State DT Timmy Jernigan was viewed as a first-round talent in early mock drafts.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears knocked out a need at cornerback on Thursday in Round 1 of the NFL draft with the selection of Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller, and on Friday the team will stick to the plan of replenishing the defense in Rounds 2 and 3.

Despite perhaps more pressing needs at safety and linebacker, the Bears took a versatile cornerback in the first round. What's encouraging for the next two rounds is that this year's draft class is so deep, the Bears could still find players in need areas capable of contributing significantly as rookies.

[+] EnlargeEd Reynolds
AP Photo/Tony AvelarStanford safety Ed Reynolds makes sense for the Bears in the third round.
The Bears pick 51st and 82nd overall in the next two rounds, and with options aplenty on Day 2, I'd use the second-round pick on the best defensive tackle available since that position represents the best value. I'm more partial to Florida State's Timmy Jernigan (I don't care about the alleged failed drug test) or Notre Dame's Louis Nix than a boom-or-bust prospect such as Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman.

Then, in the third round, I'd look to add competition safety with a long, rangy prospect such as Stanford's Ed Reynolds.

Looking at the players still on the board, the Bears have several options available at defensive tackle in Jernigan, Notre Dame's Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Hageman, and perhaps even later in the draft with players such as LSU's Ego Ferguson, South Carolina's Kelcy Quarles and Princeton's Caraun Reid.

At safety, the Bears should strongly consider Reynolds. He picked off seven passes over the past two years and has an NFL pedigree, from his father, Ed Sr., who played linebacker in the NFL for 10 years. Dion Bailey of Southern Cal could be another option for the Bears at safety, perhaps in the third round, and Wyoming's Marqueston Huff is a potential pick even later (six double-digit tackle games; 20 stops against Utah State).

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Linebacker options are abundant, too. Brigham Young's Kyle Van Noy racked up 62 tackles for lost yardage over four years in college; he projects as a Sam linebacker in Chicago's scheme. Florida State's Christian Jones and Telvin Smith are also athletic possibilities for perhaps later in the draft.

Keep an eye out for Connecticut's Yawin Smallwood, who posted 332 career tackles and 9.5 sacks in college and met with the Bears at the NFL combine. New Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni is familiar with Smallwood, having served as head coach at Connecticut from 2011 to '13. Pasqualoni told the Hartford Courant, "[What] I really like about [Smallwood], which I think is a strength, is that he doesn't process what he sees. He just goes. Some guys look at it and they hesitate, then they go. He's not a process guy. He's a read-and-react guy, which is a big part of that position."

Perhaps Chicago general manager Phil Emery will pull one of his usual surprise picks and grab an offensive player. That wouldn't be too much of a stretch, because the benefit of a class this deep is that the Bears can legitimately find ways to address needs throughout all seven rounds.

Emery has been high on Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro, who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash and made 106 catches last season.
Ra'Shede HagemanJesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsRa'Shede Hageman would help shore up the Bears' run defense and he's a competent pass rusher.
Don't sleep on Day 2 of the NFL draft. Players chosen in the second and third rounds are expected to be serious contributors from the start. Since Phil Emery took over as general manager in 2012, the Chicago Bears have used second-round picks on Alshon Jeffery and Jonathan Bostic, who between them have already started a combined 29 games (Jeffery 20, Bostic nine).

These are vital selections for the long-term stability and health of a franchise.

My prediction is the Bears will select Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman with the No. 51 pick in the draft.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
AP Photo/Michael ConroyTight end Jace Amaro, who is projected as a second-round NFL draft pick, started all 13 games for Texas Tech in 2013.
Why Hageman? He is one of the best interior defensive linemen available. Hageman's 6-foot-5, 310-pound frame would help the Bears shore up their run defense, and he would be a nice complement to veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins in the club's rotation. Hageman can also rush the passer, and he started 26 games for the Golden Gophers from 2011 to '13. He hasn't been injury-prone. Hageman has experienced multiple off-the-field issues (academic suspension and misdemeanor for disorderly conduct) and reportedly had a difficult childhood. But none of that looks to be terribly alarming. Emery is open to taking players who have supposed character red flags because he believes the organization possesses the necessary amount of stability and leadership.

What if Hageman is gone already? The Bears could turn to another defensive tackle, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan. Early mock drafts linked Jernigan to the Bears at No. 14, but he fell to the second round after he reportedly tested positive for a banned substance at the NFL combine. Jernigan is on the smaller side (6-1, 299 pounds), but he earned All-ACC first-team honors last season after posting career highs with 63 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS National Championship.

What if they're both gone? Maybe the Bears will look to further bolster the offense by adding a dynamic tight end such as Texas Tech's Jace Amaro (6-5, 265 pounds). In 2013, Amaro caught 106 passes for 1,352 yards and seven touchdowns. How would he look alongside Martellus Bennett? Imagine both Bennett and Amaro in the slot in a four-receiver set. Good luck covering that combination when Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are flanked out wide. Amaro would likely represent the best available player in this scenario. He could be too talented to pass on.

Bears' Day 2 look ahead

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- With cornerback addressed in Round 1, the Bears can turn their attention on Friday evening to satisfying their other needs on the defensive side of the ball, particularly defensive tackle.

Even though the Bears missed out on Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald (No. 13 to St. Louis), there is expected to be ample talent at defensive tackle available in the second and third rounds for general manager Phil Emery to consider. Remember, the Bears do have some depth on the interior of their defensive line with veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea and Nate Collins all under contract next season. The Bears aren't necessarily under the gun to find a defensive tackle on Day 2 of the draft that has to start Week 1 next season. Instead, the Bears need to target a young player capable of jumping into the rotation inside in 2014, but who has the potential to grow into a starting role in the future.

Names to consider in the second and third rounds include: Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Notre Dame's Louis Nix, Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt, Penn State's DaQuan Jones, LSU's Ego Ferguson, Arizona State's Will Sutton and Princeton's Caraun Reid.

The outlook appears to be more complicated at safety.

After passing on Louisville's Calvin Pryor (New York Jets, No. 18), Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (Green Bay Packers, No. 21), Washington State's Deone Bucannon (Arizona Cardinals, No. 27) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (San Francisco 49ers, No. 30) in favor of Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller with the 14th pick, the Bears will find slim pickings at safety on Friday.

Names to monitor are: Florida State's Terrence Brooks, Minnesota's Brock Vereen, Wisconsin's Dezmen Southward, Wyoming's Marqueston Huff, and USC's Dion Bailey.

Or the Bears could look to double-dip at cornerback with the hopes of converting another defensive back to safety.

Lindenwood cornerback Pierre Desir remains on the board after Thursday night. The Bears sent their Director of College Scouting to the 6-foot-1, 198 pound Desir's pro day during the pre-draft process to get a better feel for the Division II standout who intercepted 25 passes during his college career.

Finally, the Bears still need help at inside linebacker where Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Louisville's Preston Brown are possible candidates.
Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. dropped his Mock 3.0 on Thursday with the Chicago Bears staying true to filling their need at defensive tackle in using the No. 14 pick on Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
McShay writes: "Donald is a perfect fit for the Bears’ scheme as a 3-technique defensive tackle. I don’t know if there’s been a prospect who has helped his stock more during the draft process than him. He was unblockable at the Senior Bowl, and that, put together with an unbelievable overall workout at the combine. He’s shorter than prototype size, but he has long arms, a powerful upper body and creates a lot of big plays with his anticipation and quickness. FSU’s Timmy Jernigan is a fit as a 3-technique as well, but Donald is a much better finisher as a pass-rusher."


At this point, Donald might make more sense than Jernigan at No. 14 because the Bears re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff on Wednesday, and could benefit tremendously from pairing the young talent with a veteran next season. If Donald doesn’t pan out as a rookie, at the very least he would provide depth at a position that sorely lacked it in 2013 when injuries took hold of the front four.

In 2013, the Bears allowed the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history as opponents ran all through through the team's beat-up defensive line and inexperienced linebackers later in the season. Chicago gave up 10 100-yard rushing performances, in addition to a 211-yard effort on Dec. 1 by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, and both are set to hit free agency. At this point, Collins seems to be more likely than Melton to return in 2014 as the latter will speak to other teams on March 8 when the negotiation window opens.

If the Bears brought aboard Donald, and re-signed Melton, Collins, and Corey Wootton, they'd actually field a pretty formidable rotation up front; at least on paper.

McShay and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. have been pretty consistent in their mock drafts with most of them having the Bears using their 14th pick on a defensive tackles.

Uncertainty currently remains a hallmark along Chicago’s defensive line, as the club needs more than just Ratliff and veteran Stephen Paea, who right now are the only defensive tackles under contract. It’s worth noting that Paea’s contract expires after the 2014 season.

“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” Donald said last month at the NFL combine. “I played nose tackle, played a three-man front in the five-tech, three-tech. I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that’s a plus for me.”

It could prove beneficial for the Bears, too.

Donald, like Melton, lacks ideal size. But the former Pittsburgh star’s first step is off the charts, a trait he shares with Melton, who was the club’s franchise player in 2013.

The Bears want youth on defense, and when you talk to folks within the organization, the words “tough” and “athletic” seem to be a common themes of the team’s vision for the type of players they’d like to add in the future to that unit. Donald certainly possesses those traits.

The league’s rookie slotting system, which would strap Donald to a cap-friendly contract over the next few years, makes him even more attractive.

Countdown to Combine: Bears

February, 17, 2014
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With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here's a look at the Chicago Bears' positions of need and which prospects the team might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.

Position of need: Defensive tackle

The Bears lost two defensive tackles in franchise player Henry Melton and his reserve, Nate Collins, over a span of 15 days last season, leading to a domino effect that would collapse the entire defense into ineffectiveness, not to mention failure of historic proportions.

The Bears gave up the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history, and in the process surrendered 10 100-yard rushing performances, in addition to a 211-yard outing by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Bears general manager Phil Emery took responsibility for the Bears not having a successful contingency plan up front to counteract all the losses.

"It starts with me," Emery said at the end of the season. "We had injuries. They are not an excuse. So for me, I have to look at did we have enough depth to win football games? The answer is no. From a personnel perspective, from my perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth. We were at least one defensive lineman short. At the tackle position going into the season, for that fourth tackle, we felt like we had a tackle signed in Sedrick Ellis; that didn't work out (because he retired on the eve of training camp. That's on me. The fact that we couldn't replace Sedrick, that's on me. We didn't have enough pass rush from the outside or the inside. We needed one more."

Look for the Bears to try to fulfill that need in May during the NFL draft.

Melton and Collins are free agents, as are Jeremiah Ratliff and versatile end/tackle Corey Wootton, who is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and Stephen Paea is entering the final year of his original rookie deal.

Three players the Bears might be targeting

Timmy Jernigan, Florida State: Projected as a penetrating one-gap defensive tackle, Jernigan fits Chicago's scheme, provided it decides to continue to operate out of a 4-3 front in 2014. Jernigan appears to have more upside than Melton in terms of his ability to disrupt running plays in the backfield. At the very least, Jernigan could come in and become a part of the team's defensive line rotation as a rookie if he doesn't outright win a starting job.

Louis Nix III, Notre Dame: Probably not an ideal fit for a one-gap scheme, but has ideal size to produce as a two-gapping 3-4 nose. The question is whether the Bears plan to transition over to that front. If so, Nix might be the perfect foundation for that construction project. Based on the team's current personnel, it might not be ready just yet to make the 3-4 transition, which means Nix might not be Chicago's man at No. 14.

Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh: Not as tall as Melton, but similar in terms of weight (288 pounds, but he could easily get up to 300) and skillset. Like Melton, Donald is probably most disruptive as an interior pass-rusher, but some scouts think he might be capable of holding the point consistently as a run defender. Donald fits what the Bears do defensively, but again, the caveat is whether the team decides to continue running the current scheme in 2014.
The NFL draft won’t take place until May, but several questions regarding it continue to come into the Twitter feed. So we’ll address some of them in today’s Twitter mailbag:

Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. and ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. agreed in their second mock drafts that the Chicago Bears will use the 14th pick to select Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.

Kiper stuck with his original pick for the Bears from his first mock draft, which was published Jan. 15. Here's the link to Kiper's latest mock draft.

Kiper wrote that Jernigan is "another pick I'm sticking with because the hand-to-glove fit of talent and need. I'm a bigger fan of Jernigan in a 4-3 look in which he's using his power to go through a blocker and not trying to beat people off the snap and use quickness. He's not a blow-by rusher, but he has the strength and quick feet to eat up a running play before it goes anywhere. The Bears were a mess on the inside of the D-line last year due to injuries."

There's no disputing that fact.

In 2013, the Bears allowed the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history as opponents ran roughshod through the team's beat-up defensive line. Chicago surrendered 10 100-yard rushing performances, in addition to a 211-yard effort by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson on Dec. 1.

Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, and both are set to hit free agency, as are defensive tackle Jay Ratliff and defensive end Corey Wootton, who is coming off hip surgery.

So if the Bears decided to bring aboard Jernigan, in addition to finding a way to bring back Melton, Collins, Ratliff and Wootton, they'd wind up with a pretty formidable rotation up front, which they could bolster by adding another defensive end through free agency or the draft.

McShay put together his first mock draft on Dec. 18, before the official order was set, and he had the Bears drafting Florida's Dominique Easley, who has suffered two ACL injuries during his college career. Here's what McShay's take about the Bears taking Jernigan in his latest mock draft:
The Bears have a lot of uncertainty along their defensive line; defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins were both placed on the injured reserve last season and are free agents this offseason; DT Jay Ratliff and DE Corey Wootton are also scheduled to become free agents; and DT Stephen Paea's contract expires after the 2014 season. Enter Jernigan, who won't wow anybody with his physique at the combine and doesn't always look pretty out on the field, but is a stout, quick and powerful football player who would be a great fit in the Bears' one-gap scheme.
If the Bears bring back some of the veterans, such as Melton and Ratliff, Jernigan might make a solid addition in terms of bringing in competition for them. With Melton playing under the franchise tag in 2013, there was legitimate concern that he might become complacent. And general manager Phil Emery's concerns about Melton's dedication to football aren't unfounded by any means, which is why the personnel exec voiced them during the team's season-ending news conference.

At the No. 14 spot, the Bears could decide to replenish the secondary by adding a cornerback (given that Charles Tillman is set to hit free agency), or a safety to replace Major Wright, who is also a pending free agent. But if Jernigan is available at 14, the value there might just be too much for the Bears to pass on given the team's current situation along the front four, not to mention the premium placed on that position in the club's scheme.

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