With most of the dust settling from the opening of free agency, the task of competing for the Super Bowl turns to the draft. The Bears strengthened the defensive line, but the job is not done. They have their edge rushers and rotational help inside, but they need the big guy to lead the interior. Most experts have the Bears going after Florida State’s Timmy Jernigan, but the team should avoid him and go after Aaron Donald.
Jernigan is the prototypical defensive tackle, measuring in at 6’2″ and weighing about 300 pounds. He helped the Seminoles’ defense be one of the best in the country, on their way to the National Championship, and analysts have fallen in love with his size.
When Phil Emery talked about resetting the defense, he talked about having athletic playmakers. So far in his time with the Bears, he has shied away from the prototype ballplayer.
He drafted Shea McClellin with his first pick as general manager. Although the jury is still out on him, he gives the Bears some flexibility, being able to play the end (in certain situations) and now spending more time at linebacker.
Another against the grain pick came last year with Kyle Long. Long is big and tall, but he was not considered a top-20 prospect. What he had that caught Emery’s attention was his athletic ability.
Long is quick for his size. He is very agile, which helps him when he pulls. He can pretty much do whatever you ask of him. As a result, Long was in the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
As I said, Jernigan has the size that coaches cannot teach. His problem, however, is that he is slow off the ball. At the pro level, that gives the offensive linemen a chance to engage, and it will make it difficult for Jernigan to shed blockers.
Donald, on the other hand, shoots off the line like a cannon. His first step allows him to blow past blockers, and he is able to put a great deal of pressure in the backfield.
Donald is not very tall, but he uses that to his advantage. He is able to get low and get the leverage needed to get rid of blockers.
NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah also prefers Donald’s upside over Jernigan. “I’m going to say Jernigan gets picked ahead of Aaron Donald, but I’m not so sure that Aaron Donald doesn’t end up being the better pro because he’s so dynamic and electric as an interior rusher.”
Dynamic and electric-those are words that seem to make Emery’s ears perk, no?
Should the Bears keep their pick (more on that later), the only team ahead of them (other than one that picks Jadeveon Clowney) that has a need at defensive tackle is New York. The Giants, however, also have a dire need to protect their franchise quarterback, Eli Manning, so that may be a more pressing matter.
There are reports that Emery may be shopping his pick. There are a lot of teams that need offensive help so it is an advantage for him, needing defensive help.
Emery could trade down and get more picks, but he would risk not having his players there. This is where the Henry Melton signing is a bonus for the Bears.
The Dallas Cowboys were another team in need of interior linemen. Owner Jerry Jones would almost certainly go after Donald, except now he has that interior help. With that help, Jones can concentrate on getting the edge rusher to replace Demarcus Ware.
Timmy Jernigan may be the sexier pick in a lot of minds, but I feel Aaron Donald will be the more solid pick for the Bears. We know Emery will not be swayed by sexiness. He wants an athletic, fast defense with playmakers, and Donald fits that bill.