With the primary surge of Free Agency finished up, the focus for the Indianapolis Colts turns to the draft, where GM Chris Ballard looks to hit another home run with the 2019 class. Last draft season, Ballard drafted Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard, who both ended up earning First Team All-Pro honors as rookies. In addition, he also drafted a handful of contributors in Braden Smith, Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Nyheim Hines, and Matthew Adams.
This film room series will attempt to highlight certain prospects that may interest the Colts and go through their film to find their strengths and weaknesses. Today’s prospect is Notre Dame defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. Tillery is a player that put together an excellent season with Notre Dame before a torn labrum slowed him down late in the year.
We will look through the film and see what Tillery could potentially bring to the Colts, if they end up drafting him. Clips in this piece will be from five games that I watched, two of which were on coach’s film. The full list of games watched were against Stanford, Vanderbilt, Michigan, Clemson, and USC.
6’6” 295 pounds with 34.25 inch arms
40 Time: 4.93 / 10-yard split: 1.69 / Bench: 23 reps / Vertical Jump: 32 inches / Broad Jump: 115 inches / 3-Cone: 7.45 seconds
133 total tackles, 23 tackles for a loss, 12.5 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles in his career.
Late Round 1/Early Round 2
One of the most important traits a defensive lineman can have is great hand usage. It doesn’t matter how athletic or strong a defensive lineman is, as long as they have strong hands and quick moves, they will always find success. Tillery is a great example of excellent hands creating pressure. He is very quick and nuanced with his moves which allows him to be nearly unblockable on the interior one on one.
The first clip showcases one of those excellent moves. Tillery fires out of his stance and gets the right guard upright at the snap. He comes across the guard’s body with a violent club and creates separation. He is then able to move effortlessly around the flailing guard en route to a pressure on the play. This club move is a big part of his game and it is simply violent when it is well timed and struck.
Tillery also shows variety in his moveset. Along with having an impressive club move, he also boasts a nice under move. Here, he drives the left guard deep into the pocket before setting up his move. He swims under the arms of the guard and then bends around the space he created and gets the sack. Athletically gifted players with great hand usage create great plays like this.
This last clip again shows another moveset in his repertoire. He sets the left guard up again at the snap with a quick get off. He immediately swipes the hands of the guard and then flies past and gets into the backfield. This is a screen play, so the guard is not going to be as engaged on the block but it is still impressive that Tillery shows off the ability to quickly swipe away the hands of a blocker inside.
In addition to having excellent hand usage, Tillery is incredibly strong at the point of attack. It is hard enough to block a player who is quick in his moveset, and who hasa variety of moves he can win with, but when you combine stellar strength with those moves, you have the makings of a very good player. Tillery's low bench totals at the combine are more of a result of his insanely long arms and not a true reflection of his strength. He moves lineman constantly on film.
This clip illustrates that length and strength combined. Tillery gets an excellent initial punch, landing inside on the guard’s chest. Once he establishes this position inside, he is able to drive the guard backwards into the pocket and get the sack. The ability to simply move a 300 pound man like this is uncanny.
This next clip showcases Tillery on stunt play. He twists outside and has a running start towards the left tackle. He is able to drive the tackle backward, and knock him off balance. Once he has gained leverage on the tackle, he bends inside and is able to get the strip sack on the play.
The third ingredient that makes a defensive lineman dominant is pure athleticism. As you can tell from previous clips, Tillery moves effortlessly for a 300 pound player who is 6’6”. When you combine this gifted athleticism with his outstanding hand usage and brute strength, you get a prospect with elite upside who could be a force in the NFL.
Before we show clips of his athletic ability, I just want to show how great of an athlete he is. If you are unfamiliar with this scale, it is broken down on a scale of 0-10 how great of an athlete each player is compared to athletes at the same position in passed drafts. Tillery basically scored as an elite athlete in terms of speed, explosiveness, and agility all-time for defensive tackles. I highly recommend Kent’s scale for any future athletic scores of prospects. It is an excellent database for draft players.
Jumping to his film, that athleticism pops, as well. Here, he is chopped at the line of scrimmage to allow the running back to get into open space on the sweep by the goal line. Tillery is initially tripped up by the chop, but immediately springs to his feet and pursues the ball carrier. He gets outside quickly and is able to track down the running back for a short gain. This athleticism is rare for a 6’6” 300 pound player.
Tillery's explosiveness and burst pop on almost every play. He explodes on his first step and creates instant penetration on almost every play. Here he is able to get up field before the guard can really get his hands on him and he forces the quarterback to step up and scramble out of the pocket.
This last clip does mostly show off his pass rushing ability— again just look at that violent club go to work— but also take note of how good of an athlete he is. He hits the club, but then accelerates into the backfield while also bending past the guard for the sack. This clip encompasses all of the strengths that I have mentioned in this piece all into one play.
I have mentioned how Tillery has elite strength, size, athleticism, and hand usage, which begs the question as to why he is not a consensus top five player with these positives. He does have some worrisome negatives. His pad level could certainly improve as he does occasionally get buried by smaller players. He could also work on his counters when rushing the passer. Often times he is stymied early on in a rep, and fails to adjust. Other concerns include his torn labrum (that he played through last season), and a few dirty plays that have shown up on his film in years past.
A bit reckless, with high posture, are two constants in Tillery’s game. He needs to be much more controlled and get his pad level down in the NFL. Here, he allows the tackle to get his hands inside and toss him out of the play and onto his back.
I’d like to see Tillery develop more counters and inside moves to his game. Too many times in his film does he try an initial swipe or club, and fails to adjust when it doesn’t work. Here, he tries to swipe initially, and once the tackle doesn’t get beat by it, Tillery continues outside the pocket and creates no real rush.
A few teams may have Tillery completely off their boards due to some cheap shots and dirty plays by him in his college career. Here is one example, when he kicked a USC player in the head while he was on the field injured. This led to Tillery getting yelled at by his coach on the sidelines. He seems to have cleaned this up a bit last year but there is always this concern with him.
Jerry Tillery is an excellent talent in this draft who would be a perfect fit with the Colts. His physical abilities combined with his excellent hand usage and variety of pass rushing moves makes a nearly unblockable player, one on one. He has the upside to be one of the best interior defensive lineman in the NFL one day.
There certainly is risk involved with Tillery, though. The dirty plays and cheap shots could be something that takes him off of Chris Ballard’s board. Those, along with a couple of minor flaws on the field are likely the reason why we are hearing mostly round 2 talk for the talented defensive tackle.
Overall, though, I do think Tillery would fit well with the Colts. The locker room culture that the Colts have would be a great fit for him, and he fits the defensive scheme so well. With his pure physical abilities, he would be a complete force on the inside, solely one-gapping for the Colts. On passing downs, Tillery would provide the spark that the team desperately needs. I think the talent here greatly outweighs the risk, and the Colts should absolutely consider Tillery with the 26th or 34th picks in the 2019 NFL Draft.