Jay Tufele could be one of the steals of the 2021 draft.
Jay Tufele is one of the more interesting prospects in the 2021 NFL draft. He’s in a fairly weak defensive tackle class and was well on his way towards being the top prospect in his position after his first two years at USC, but Tufele’s decision to opt out last year has seemingly complicated his evaluation by scouts.
Name: Jay Tufele
Weight: 305 lbs
2019 Stats: 13 games, 41 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 pass defensed
Tufele committed to the Trojans in 2017 alongside fellow defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu – whose scouting report is available here. After both took a redshirt season, they became a dynamic duo on the interior of the Trojans defensive line. Tufele tallied 23 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks while recovering a fumble and picking off a pass in his first year as a starter.
In 2019, Tufele took a big step forward in his play as he and Tuipulotu got more comfortable working with each other, and as a result he earned First Team All-Pac 12 honors after only making the second team list the year prior. It was expected that his 2020 season would cement him as the best defensive tackle prospect in this draft, but he instead opted out. Not only did that pave the way for Tuipulotu to shine more, but it distracted people from how good Tufele can be.
Burst: Tufele comes out of his stance with a suddenness that makes him hard to contain. He gets off very quickly and transitions into his plan of attack so well that he often simply catches linemen off guard. Much of USC’s success came from the combination of both Tufele and Tuipulotu having great burst off the snap, but Tufele should be able to be just as disruptive without his teammate.
Footwork: He often has trouble with his pad level and gets too upright when he’s coming at his blocker. He needs to be more precise with his feet and take better strides to keep himself lower. If he wasn’t so routinely beating guys off the line, his lack of leverage due to his footwork would have resulted in much less production at USC.
Hand Technique: Tufele doesn’t get ideal leverage nearly enough but the good news is he’s a very active player with his hands. He doesn’t necessarily pack a punch, but he does have precision with his hand technique, frequently getting hold of the linemen in good position to either transition into a pass rush move or hold against the run.
Pass Rush Moves: He does a good job of having a well thought out pass rush attack, seamlessly going into secondary moves when his first one gets stopped. However, you’d like to see Tufele play with a few more moves in his toolbox. If he can expand on that, he could become a real force in the pass rush.
Lateral Agility: As good as Tufele’s burst is, his lateral agility might be his best trait. Whether it’s navigating around traffic as a pass rusher or moving laterally in run defense, he moves very well. Tufele fits the profile of a pass rushing 3-tech, but his value added as a run defender is what really sets him apart from others, and that value comes almost entirely from his ability to move across the line of scrimmage.
Athleticism: He was listed at 315 pounds during the 2019 season, although he measured at 305 pounds at his Pro Day. Either way, he moves better than his weight suggests. It shows up most in his burst, although Tufele has better long speed than most guys at his position.
Run Defense: Very few pass rushing tackles play the run better. It’s just textbook technique from him, reading the backfield while maintaining position with his hands before breaking contact and moving laterally to the ball. Watching his reps in run defense make you want to put him at a 1-tech role, but Tufele is too good of a pass rusher to limit him like that.
Processing: There are times on passing downs where Tufele seems to get tunnel vision and get so focused on beating his block that he’s unaware of where the ball is. But he does a very good job of digesting running plays quickly and getting in position to make a play.
Toughness: Tufele’s motor runs hot and it only cools down when the play is completely over. He plays with a frenetic, aggressive style and is unafraid of mixing it up with guys in the trenches.
Intangibles: He was seemingly on the verge of greatness at USC before he decided to opt out, and there will undoubtedly be questions about his commitment and leadership due to that decision. Nothing on tape suggests any red flags in those areas, but as with all prospects who opted out this past year, it complicates the evaluation.