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Making the Leap, No. 13: Timmy Jernigan

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The Around The NFL crew will document the players we believe will be "Making the Leap" in 2015. This could be a player emerging from no-name status to a quality starter. Or it could mean an excellent player jumping to superstar status.

The list continues with No. 13, Baltimore Ravens defensive end Timmy Jernigan.

Why Timmy Jernigan is on the list


Ozzie Newsome is a genius.

The above statement could be sufficient for Jernigan to make our list. The Ravens GM saw enough in the rookie down the stretch last season that he was comfortable trading Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions for draft picks.

Jernigan missed five games last year due to injury and participated in just 330 snaps as a rookie. However, in replacing Ngata during the veteran's four-game suspension at the end of the 2014 season, Jernigan displayed extreme promise. His play alongside underrated Brandon Williams allowed Newsome to move on from the high-priced, aging Ngata.

Despite the limited reps, Jernigan showed a skill set that could propel him toward dominance with an expanded role. As a penetrating lineman, Jernigan showed burst up field on pass rush in his game film. I specifically loved the way he used his hands to discard blockers. He also displayed enough power to bully interior linemen and collapse the pocket. Four sacks in limited play were a starting point. His ability to push the pocket should increase with greater opportunity and diversifying rush moves.

While some criticized the rookie's run defense, I saw a player with a motor who could diagnose the run and shift through traffic to make tackles on the move. At 6-foot-2, 295 pounds, he's not the hole-plugger Ngata was, but Jernigan uses his nimbleness and pursuit well.

The video below displays one high-octane sequence against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15. In back-to-back-to-back plays, Jernigan earned a QB pressure, tackle for no gain and a sack.

Given his lack of snaps, it's difficult to compare Jernigan's stats to others who earned nearly three times the plays. The fine folks over at Pro Football Focus have helped us attempt to overcome that conundrum. PFF graded Jernigan as their sixth-best 3-4 defensive end in run stop percentage with a 10.1 stop rate. The rookie rated second at the position in pass rush productivity, behind only J.J. Watt. Those high per-snap marks should help his stats balloon with more opportunities.

Obstacles


First and foremost among Jernigan's obstacles will be his ability to handle an increased workload. He missed games at two different times last season due to injury. His ability to break out in 2015 rests on proving those were isolated incidents.

Jernigan also needs to show that the increased workload won't diminish his production value. While we believe he's the type of player who can provide consistent pressure, his worst game of the season came when he took his most snaps -- 56 -- in Week 16.

Part of Jernigan's struggles in Week 16 came against a good run-blocking Texans' offensive line. There are times during the season when Jernigan would get pushed back by good road graders. Adding strength this offseason should help minimize those problems.

As with most young players, being consistent on a play-by-play basis is key to becoming a household name.

Expectations


I'll let the 22-year-old tell you his own expectations:

"Man, I definitely want to have bigger numbers than last year and I want to go to the Pro Bowl," Jernigan said this offseason, per the Baltimore Sun. "Ain't no other way to put it. I just want to prove to people that I can play the run as well."

Jernigan will need to put up extreme numbers to make the Pro Bowl. His combination of agility and quickness should allow him to get to the quarterback against slower interior linemen. In the Divisional Round matchup with the New England Patriots, he put clown suits on two different guards.

Given his pass-rushing ability, understated run-stopping skills and an increased opportunity in a very good defense, Jernigan enters 2015 with a decent shot at double-digit sacks hitting his Pro Bowl goal.

The latest Around The NFL Podcast discusses Russell Wilson's contract, and the guys list their Comeback Player of the Year candidates. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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