It caught my eye a few weeks ago when Tony Pauline cited a source saying USC defensive lineman Tui Tuipolotu could go in round one.
I’d spoken briefly to Tony about Tuipolotu and we both agreed he was an incredibly difficult player to grade. In my horizontal board I went for round three simply because I was really struggling to balance out the pro’s and con’s.
He’s listed at 6-4 and 290lbs. He had a tremendous 2022 season with 12.5 sacks and 21 TFL’s.
Yet he’s also the reason why the word ‘tweener’ was invented.
There are a couple of players I really want to see testing results for. One is Tuipolotu and the other is Jared Verse the Florida State pass rusher. I don’t think I’ll be able to give a serious grade on either until after the combine.
I did want to share some thoughts on Tuipolotu though after re-watching three games today.
He has a Euro step. He has a cross-chop. He can win with a fake to the inside before exploding back to the edge. He can bend and straighten. There are wins with a bull-rush where he drives the tackle back into the quarterback. His get-off is good enough to put a tackle on skates. He fights through attempted blocks with good hands — swiping away from the tackle and ripping through contact. He converts speed to power. He can crash inside to attack the B-gap and fill in versus the run. His motor is generally good. He does a lot very well and his repertoire is impressive.
There are also inconsistencies on tape. As impactful as he is, there are stretches where he’s too easily blocked or washed out. He can’t press consistently to keep players away from his frame and you don’t see much of a long arm to stay clean and read the play. He plays in bursts. This is indicative of the key question mark.
He’s such an in-between player. He has the build of a smaller, specialist interior rusher but he rushes the edge well enough to play most of his snaps outside. His pass rushing grade per PFF is 80.6. He’s effective and I think he’s a better player at defensive end.
Yet he lacks the traditional long frame to play the edge. His arm length looks short too and I worry about his ability to keep blockers off his body at the next level consistently. He’s so quick at times and he has some bend and flexibility. Maybe his agility testing and burst will signal a unique talent? Yet his frame doesn’t lend itself to defensive end and I’m not sure a permanent move inside would work either.
Then you come back to the production and assortment of different pass rush wins and you want to rate him extremely highly.
He’s one of the hardest players I’ve tried to work out in a long while. I can well imagine him coming into the NFL and being a little bit inconsistent but finding a way to grab 8-12 sacks a season as a versatile piece who moves around the D-line. I can also imagine him being an ineffective tweener who just feasted on substandard PAC-12 teams and while he looked great rushing the edge in college — there aren’t really any players succeeding with his body type at the next level.
He’s a brilliant test case. If he does test well I can see a team taking a chance in the top-40. I can also see him being there in round three.
His brother Marlon plays for the Eagles. Incidentally, the Eagles defensive coordinator, Jonathan Gannon, has been touted as a potential candidate to replace Pete Carroll this week. Benjamin Allbright re-emphasised this week and even doubled-down on his initial speculation, suggesting John Schneider was ready to work with a new Head Coach.
I don’t think a Carroll-led defense would draft someone like Tuipolotu. A different coach might feel differently.
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