Before Thursday night it had been 22 years since a Notre Dame defensive lineman heard his name called during the first round of the NFL Draft. The San Diego Chargers, with the 28th pick in last night’s draft, changed that by selecting Notre Dame All-American Jerry Tillery at the end of the 1st round.
Prior to Tillery being selected by the Chargers last night, the last Notre Dame defensive lineman selected in the 1st round was Renaldo Wynn all the way back in 1997. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Wynn 21st overall and the Irish great went on to have a successful 13 year NFL career.
For Tillery, the first round selection caps off a roller-coaster career at Notre Dame that includes being recruited originally as an offensive lineman and lingering questions throughout his career regarding how much he cared about football. After all of that, Tillery leaves Notre Dame as a 1st round NFL Draft pick with a contract worth just under $12 Million guaranteed based on his draft slot.
Reminder: Tillery played most of this season with a torn labrum that required surgery after the season. That should put an end to the “how much does he care about football” argument permanently. Amazingly it still lingered in many of his draft evaluations.
Tillery had considered leaving for the NFL following the 2017 season, but was not projected as high as he ultimately was selected last evening. He returned in 2018 and helped power Notre Dame’s defense on its run to a 12-0 regular season and first ever playoff selection. Returning for his senior season clearly worked out in his favor.
In 2018 Tillery tied for the team lead in sacks with 8.0 in the season. His inside pass rush ability is one of the primary reasons the Chargers had him graded as a first round pick according to the GM Tom Telesco.
“He fits on (our) interior defensive line,” he said. “His size, his length — he’s 6-6 and 300 pounds with a very athletic build — has long arms, is very flexible and runs well for a big guy. He has some inside pass-rush ability. That really jumped off the tape to us, his movement skills for such a big man.”
Chargers Receive High Marks for Tillery Selection
The Chargers are getting high marks for the selection of Tillery with the 28th pick in the immediate aftermath of the first round. CBS’s Pete Prisco gave them an “A” for taking Tillery when they did.
Pete Prisco: I love the selection. I think this kid has got great upside. The Chargers needed to get better on the defensive line and they needed to get tougher. They needed to get better inside, we saw that in the playoff loss to the Patriots.
Danny Kelly of the Ringer was even more effusive in his praise of the selection.
Tillery is a really fun albeit inconsistent player. When he’s on his game, he’s a powerful, slippery interior rusher who uses his length to rag-doll defenders and his quick first step to explode through gaps. He had stretches of games during which he looked like DeForest Buckner or Chris Jones, but disappeared at times as well. If the Chargers can unlock Tillery’s potential and get him to play with more consistency, they might’ve gotten a star at no. 28. I like the value—he was no. 22 overall on my board—and love the thought of the former Golden Domer playing next to Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. GRADE: A+
Tillery Reunited with Rochell
In San Diego Tillery will join forces once again with former Notre Dame defensive lineman Isaac Rochell. Rochell has been with the Chargers since they selected him in 7th round of the 2017 NFL Draft two years ago.
Rochell is excited about the reunion with his former collegiate teammate according to an interview he gave to the Chargers official website shortly after the Bolts made the pick.
“He’s a beast! With what we need, he fits the mold. We need someone to come in; a big dude, to come in and pass rush, and he’s going to do that. He showed that all last year, and he was dominant. He’s an absolute run stopper because he’s a huge body with good leverage. He’s a jack-of-all-trades and I’m excited.”
Tillery Continues Kelly’s 1st Round Success
Bob Davie, Tyrone Willingham, and Charlie Weis produced just three first round picks in their combined 13 years at Notre Dame. After nine full seasons as the head coach of the Fighting Irish, Brian Kelly has produced nine after Tillery’s selection.
Just last year Notre Dame had two first rounders in offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson. Among Kelly’s first rounders though, Tillery is just the second defensive player in the group joining safety Harrison Smith.
There very likely could be more names added to the list of defensive players taken in the 1st round under Kelly’s watch in the near future though. Both Khalid Kareem and Julian Okwara have an opportunity to play their way into the 2020 1st round this fall.
Next up for Notre Dame in 2019 NFL Draft
No other Notre Dame player heard their name called on Thursday night during the first round, but two more might get selected Friday night during the 2nd round. Julian Love is almost a sure bet to come off the board early in the 2nd round while Miles Boykin could sneak into the 2nd after his ridiculous showing at the NFL Combine back in February.