This time of year is all about coaches prioritizing what they need, and what they want. Every team feels like it could use some upgrades via the transfer portal. But where does a staff prioritize those scholarships? Which positions need immediate impact players, and where does a team need depth with potential long-term answers?
For Eli Drinkwitz and Missouri, it became apparent adding another starting level interior defensive lineman was a must. The Tigers were able to find exactly what they needed in the form of Jayden Jernigan, the former Oklahoma State defensive tackle with two years of production in the Big 12.
Jernigan was a highly rated 3-star recruit out of Allen, Texas when he committed to the Cowboys back in 2019. He immediately saw the field and finished his true freshman season with 13 tackles and two sacks, seeing action in all 13 games. He missed all of 2020 with complications relating to Covid, but he was back on the field in 2021 and finished the season with 22 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Jernigan was graded by Pro Football Focus as the Cowboys’ second best defensive player this season.
Jayden Jernigan doesn't have a ton of sack production to his name, but he's pretty disruptive - especially from the interior. Put a nice swim move on Boise's guard which led to his first sack of this season. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/3rwm07KXX1— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 3, 2022
Not too shabby for a player who didn’t see the field for more than 600 days.
Where he fits: Jernigan adds a much-needed impact defender to the Tigers’ defensive line. Darius Robinson, Mekhi Wingo and Realus George is a solid start along the interior with Marquis Gracial and Kyran Montgomery as potential early contributors. But the Tigers were missing a third impact interior defender to go with Robinson and Wingo.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone if Jernigan is a day one starter. At worst, he’ll be a key rotational piece. Steve Wilks likes to rotate his defensive linemen - especially the big guys - to keep everyone fresh. Wingo, Jernigan, Robinson, George and Gracial has the potential to be pretty darn disruptive on the interior.
When he’ll play: The expectation should be for Jernigan to come in and play right away. You don’t add a junior to your defensive line room for no reason, especially one with the production and pedigree of Jernigan.
Jernigan looped around from the interior and blew up Texas' RB in pass pro for his second sack of the season. He's got some serious pop in his hands. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/52H1byFFZQ— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 3, 2022
Watching Jernigan’s snaps from 2021 reminded me a bit of an early-career Kobie Whiteside. He has surprising quickness for a guy with his size and his hands pack a serious punch. He played all over the defensive line for the Pokes, but his best position was along the interior as a one-gap disruptor. Wilks likes to get creative with some of his pressure looks, especially on third down, and Jernigan is the type of player Wilks could get creative with.
What it all means: I don’t want to overhype any one individual transfer, but this was a really significant get for Mizzou. Jernigan might not come with the same accolades or name recognition as last year’s additions through the transfer portal, but he could have every bit as much impact on 2022 as guys like Akayleb Evans and Blaze Alldredge had in 2021.
Jernigan isn't just a pass rusher. He can also play the run. On this one against Texas he scraped down the line, blew up the lead blocker and stopped Robinson for a 1-yard gain. pic.twitter.com/59iLYi0U22— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) January 3, 2022
And he won’t be alone. The Tigers are expected to remain active in the transfer portal, looking for potential upgrades at several key positions. Tight end and linebacker stand out as two positions where an impact player should be added. There are also a number of high level running backs in the portal who could help.
Regardless of who comes next, Drinkwitz is off to another solid start in the transfer portal landing an interior rusher with the talent to start for the Tigers right away.