Jerry Tillery, contrarian that he is, skipped Nashville and headed to Maui with his family and friends this week, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Chargers from making him their first-round draft pick.
Tillery, the 6-7 defensive tackle from Notre Dame, went 28th overall in Thursday’s NFL draft. He was the sixth defensive tackle taken after closing out his career with an eight-sack senior season.
Some pundits suggested he might have gone higher if not for questions about his love of football, but Tillery suggested any teams that passed on him for that reason were making a big mistake.
Jerry Tillery Los Angeles Chargers
Nasir Adderley Los Angeles Chargers
Drue Tranquill Los Angeles Chargers
Easton Stick Los Angeles Chargers
“I think that’s ridiculous,” Tillery said on a conference call with Los Angeles media. “The people who say these things, they don’t know. They don’t know Jerry Tillery. They haven’t seen me work in practice. They don’t know everything I’ve put in to what I do. I’m going to show them. I’m going to show them here pretty soon.”
The pass-rushing menace showed a willingness to play through pain during his 40-start career. After suffering a right shoulder injury in a four-sack game against Stanford in Week 5, he put off surgery on a torn labrum until after the NFL Scouting Combine.
Jerry Tillery (99) has a team-high eight sacks this season.Buy Photo
Jerry Tillery (99) has a team-high eight sacks this season. (Photo: Marcus Snowden/for IndyStar)
The Shreveport, La., product is expected to be fully recovered by the time the Chargers open training camp in late July. Tillery underwent surgery on March 6 in Vail, Colo., and said a recent follow-up with his surgeon went well.
“My shoulder is getting stronger, my range of motion is there,” Tillery said. “I feel I’m ahead of schedule. I’m excited to get back to playing football again.”
ESPN analyst Antony “Booger” McFarland, a former Colts defensive lineman who shares Tillery’s Louisiana roots, praised the pick during the telecast.
“The first thing that comes to my mind is Richard Seymour, a long guy that’s powerful and has the quickness inside,” McFarland said, referring to the seven-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion from 2001-12. “He can play the 4-3 or 3-4 (defense). I love the player. I like how long and strong he is.”
With the Chargers, Tillery will get a chance to play next to star defensive end Joey Bosa and former Notre Dame defensive tackle Issac Rochell, a seventh-round pick in 2017. The Chargers also drafted guard Chris Watt in 2014 and linebacker Manti Te’o in 2013.
Before that, they hadn’t taken a Notre Dame player since Willie Clark in 1994.
Soon after the Chargers took Tillery, he heard from Rochell.
“He told me what the defensive line room there is like and how good this team is and how close we are,” Tillery said. “I think we can win a Super Bowl together.”
Having Rochell on hand as his guide can only ease Tillery’s transition to pro ball.
“That will be an invaluable resource to have someone who’s done this before and who I have a really close relationship with to do this thing together,” Tillery said. “I’m ready to win some football games.”
Tillery became the 69th all-time first-rounder for the Fighting Irish and the ninth in the Brian Kelly era. He is the eighth Notre Dame defensive tackle to go in the first round and the first since Bryant Young went seventh overall to the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
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Young won the Super Bowl as a rookie, made four Pro Bowls in his 14-year career and is now the defensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons. He was a 2019 Pro Football Hall of Fame nominee.
Notre Dame extended its streak to 81 consecutive years with at least one player selected. Michigan, which had two defensive players taken in the top 12 picks, is the only school that claims a longer streak (82).
“It was just a whole year, a whole college career, coming to fruition at that moment,” Tillery said of getting the call. “All the work I’ve put in. This is what I wanted, this is what I wanted to be, this is what I wanted to do. To find out I’m going to get to do it in L.A., I could not be happier.”
All-American, @jerrytillery is the ninth Player to be taken in the first round under Coach Kelly.#GoIrish ☘️ #IrishInTheNFLpic.twitter.com/XnhUfH0FyZ
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) April 26, 2019
Tillery’s selection gives Notre Dame five first-rounders in the past four years, including a pair of top 10 offensive linemen last year in Quenton Nelson (Colts) and Mike McGlinchey (49ers).
After the halcyon days of 1991-94, when Notre Dame produced nine first-rounders, the Irish went the next 17 years (1995-2011) with just four first-rounders. Offensive tackle Luke Petitgout (1999) was the highest-drafted of those at No. 19 overall.
Since Kelly’s arrival with the 2010 season, Notre Dame has also sent first-rounders Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith (2012); Tyler Eifert (2013), Zack Martin (2014), Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller (2016) to the NFL.