Typically, my weekly Diamond in the Rough award goes to a player who stands out at a lower level of play.
Considering the NFL success of former Trojans Osi Umenyiora, DeMarcus Ware and Leodis McKelvin, I hardly consider Sun Belt powerhouse Troy to be among the "small schools" for traditional Diamonds in the Rough.
But Troy wideout Jerrel Jernigan was so dominant in a Sun Belt conference showdown with Arkansas State that I simply had to acknowledge his play here.
All Jernigan did was catch ten passes for a career high 209 yards, rush the ball five times for 31 yards and record another 71 yards on four (three kick, one punt) returns. The 311 all-purpose yards were also a career-high for Jernigan, who was recognized by the Sun Belt Conference for his second Player of the Week award already this season. He was recognized with the Offensive Player of the Week award Monday, after earning the SBC Special Teams Player of the Week following a September 12 performance against Oklahoma State in which he posted 277 all-purpose yards (including a 100 kick return for a touchdown and a 10-yard touchdown reception).
What made Jernigan's electric performance Saturday against the Red Wolves all the more stunning was that much of it came during rain showers.
Jernigan, 5-9 and 185 pounds, has true three-tier speed. He has the quickness to elude in tight quarters, the acceleration to burst through seams and the long speed to pull away from the pursuit. It didn't take long for him to demonstrate this rare combination against Arkansas State, as Jernigan caught reached high to snatch a high pass on a post route, accelerated between two Red Wolf defensive backs and was gone for a 70-yard score on only the Trojans' third play from scrimmage.
While Jernigan certainly lacks the height scouts would prefer, he has an athletic, surprisingly strong frame and has demonstrated great toughness over his career. He attacks the hole as a returner and does not back down from a physical challenge. Scouts would like to see more consistency out of Jernigan as a route-runner, though some of his troubles have been that he's been asked to line up at so many different positions in an effort to get him the ball. He rarely allows the ball to get into his chest, showing good hands to extend and pluck outside of his frame. Jernigan also showed good body control and the ability to track passes over his shoulder.
Jernigan currently leads all active FBS receivers with 209 career receptions and ranks as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 senior wideout and yet few across the country know his name. They would if he played for a Big Ten or SEC team... and they will when he lights up practices at the Senior Bowl.