For what seems like ages now, the Chargers have trotted out a defensive interior with players that I always felt were too short or just plain ‘tweeners.
Tenny Palepoi, Damion Square, Darius Philon.
Although Square and Philon have improved mightily over the last two seasons, they still don’t leave me with a sense of content when I think about the defensive front four.
Square is listed as a defensive tackle and can play some end as we saw when he took over the “big end” spot for a few games leading up to Joey Bosa’s return. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 295 pounds.
Philon is a 6-foot-1, 300-pound defensive tackle who has been jockeying for starting position at the 3-technique while Corey Liuget has struggled with injuries and suspensions. He showed some disruptive tendencies in 2018 and was one of the most consistent linemen the Chargers had. Still, not someone I would want in the starting lineup if I had a choice.
Brandon Mebane, as great as he once was, is getting up there. He offers no pass-rush potential and is nowhere near the lane-clogger that the team
It’s time the Chargers looked for a larger, more intimidating presence in the middle of their defense. One with a multitude of talents that fits like a glove in the versatile defense that Gus Bradley loves to utilize.
Enter Jerry Tillery. A sky-high tower of a man that should be the first one off the bus on every road trip. At 6-foot-7 and 305 pounds, Tillery instantly becomes the tallest on the team while taking up the mantle as most athletic interior defensive linemen.
"Tillery goes to work quickly with an attractive burst, hitting peak extension quickly and being able to carve up his matchup with pure strength if proper leverage is achieved." @_ChristianPage— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 8, 2019
Scouting Report on DL Jerry Tillery: https://t.co/WmE7BMpYm4 pic.twitter.com/Vy16PKM49j
After a season that saw defensive tackles break out in spectacular fashion, the flow of the NFL is starting to lean towards the value of disruptive and explosive interior linemen. Everyone used to want the next Von Miller. Now, they want the next Aaron Donald or Chris Jones.
That is exactly who Tillery can be.
ICYMI: what makes Jerry Tillery so special as an interior rusher? Watch Senior analyst Mike Renner break it down below. You can access the full 2019 NFL Draft Film Room series on our Youtube channel as well. https://t.co/8aH25sGkBj pic.twitter.com/9JFRMUZ2xN— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 5, 2019
Tillery came to South Bend by way of Louisiana where he was a First-Team All-State selection at the 3A level as an offensive tackle. He was rated the 126th-best player by Rivals.com and was their 11th-ranked tackle prospect. ESPN had him as their 280th-best prospect while being named their 30th-ranked offensive tackle.
He wound up playing defensive line and found himself playing in 12 games during his true freshmen year in 2015, starting three. He had 12 tackles, two tackles-for-loss, and a single sack.
In the following year, Tillery played in all 12 games again while starting 11. He recorded 37 tackles with just with three for a loss. In 2017, his true junior season, Tillery took a giant leap forward in becoming the dominant force that he was this past season.
As a whole, the Irish defense jump 20 spots in in a multitude of defensive categories and Tillery was a big part of it. He totaled 56 tackles to go along with nine for a loss (third on team, tops for DL), 4.5 sacks (led team), and a forced fumble.
It was in 2018, however, that Tillery really started to make some noise and get his draft stock meter rising. The senior made 30 total stop this past season. over a third of them for a loss (10.5) and led the team with eight sacks. His best game came against the Stanford Cardinal where he collected four sacks and forced a fumble. He was named the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week, Bronco Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week and Reese’s Senior Bowl Senior of the Week for his efforts.
He was invited to the Reese’s Senior but unfortunately declined the chance to play in Mobile.
When rushing the passer, Jerry Tillery was as dominant a defender as we saw on the field this season. pic.twitter.com/aqsavOpZ0O— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 8, 2019
In the graphic above, you can see the steady rise in Tillery’s performance over the last few years. His overall grade of 91.5 was elite and good for sixth-best among interior defenders. His pass rush grade was tied for first while his pass-rush productivity rating was good for fourth. Unfortunately, is run-stopping grade has improved yet still remains in the bottom part of the rankings.
His length and motor would allow him to play almost anywhere along the line while his burst off the line of scrimmage would cause linemen to scurry and break duties while not trying to get whipped off the snap.
He has a type of hustle that coaches covet. Most of his big plays were the result of simply not giving up when the going got tough. His best, obviously, is his motor. However, the development that he has shown over the years will need to continue to become an every-down player, but the upside is very, very apparent.