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Roster Reload: Notre Dame DT Jerry Tillery

NCAA Football: Georgia at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers are in the midst of a six game winning streak and contending for a playoff berth for the first time since 2013. While that story grabs all the headlines, soon all eyes will turn toward the NFL Draft. When the offseason officially begins, The Chargers will be looking reload their roster at several positions. College bowl games and playoffs are just over the horizon and there are countless players that The Chargers should be monitoring over the next few months.

One of the most intriguing players whose name is on the rise is Notre Dame defensive tackle, Jerry Tillery.

At 6’6, 306 pounds, Tillery was originally recruited as an offensive lineman out of Evangel Christian Academy. But he was given a chance to contribute on Notre Dame’s defense as a freshman and quickly adjusted to his new position at nose guard. However it took some time for the young defensive lineman to reach his potential both on and off the field.

Tillery’s production was up and down during the first two years of his college career. His character was also a point of controversy. At the conclusion of his freshman year Tillery was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl game due to violation of team rules. The following year during Notre Dame’s season finale loss to USC, he kicked one player in the head and stepped on the leg of another. Tillery publicly owned up to his mistakes and acknowledged that his maturity and accountability needed to improve.

Time has passed since his incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct and Tillery has grown to be a force on the defensive line of the Fighting Irish. Through 13 games in 2017, Tillery outplayed his numbers from the previous two years combined registering 56 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and one fumble.

The young defensive lineman has continued build on the momentum from his junior year. At the start of the 2018 season, he was once again moved from the nose guard position to three-technique defensive tackle and the results have yielded huge returns. Tillery delivered solid performances against Michigan, Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech. But his standout game came against Stanford, where he registered six total tackles, four sacks, two quarterback hits and was a constant disruption to the Stanford offense. Senior Analyst Rob Rang, labeled Tillery as one of his biggest risers following his performance against Stanford.

This was the type of breakthrough performance that talent evaluators had been waiting for from the undeniably gifted (but previously inconsistent) defender.”

As part of one of the best pass rushing defensive lines in college football, Tillery possesses all the attributes that translate to the NFL. His size, length and power give him the ability to play with good leverage off the snap. He has displayed the versatility to perform in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive front. But his speed is the true X-Factor to his game. Tillery is deceptively light on his feet for a player of his size. He shows quick feet off the line of scrimmage that commands double teams from offensive lineman. That speed and ability to create pressure have resulted in Tillery leading Notre Dame’s defense with seven sacks.

The 20-year-old defensive lineman toyed with the notion of entering the NFL last year, but opted to return for his senior season. While his skills have considerably improved over the past two years, consistency has been the big knock against Tillery throughout his college career. Many draft analysts have been just as inconsistent when it comes to determining his player ranking as Tillery has been ranked anywhere from the low teens to the high 20’s

The Chargers will have decisions to make when free agency begins in March. Brandon Mebane is 33 years old and his contract expires following the 2018 season. Darius Philon and Damion Square are both unrestricted free agents and could sign with other teams should the Bolts decide to let them walk. If the team does not sign a big name free agent, they could look toward the draft to fill the void.

The Chargers have needed a dominant force along the interior of their defense for some time. The good news? The upcoming NFL Draft is stacked with multiple play makers on the defensive line. It would be in the team’s best interest to invest an early round pick on a player such as Tillery to solidify the middle of their front four.