The New York Giants have a long history of selecting defensive tackles early in the draft. The Giants rarely let a year pass without adding an interior defensive lineman to their pipeline of young talent. They’ve generally done so in preparation for a previous selection departing in free agency.
As it so happens, the Giants have three of their five interior linemen (Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson) primed to hit free agency in 2021, and another (B.J. Hill) set to be a free agent in 2022. While defensive tackle hasn’t been widely discussed as a position of interest for the Giants, it shouldn’t be ignored.
USC defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu was a four-start recruit and widely seen as a gem in USC’s 2017 recruiting class, but an early back injury kept him from playing to his potential as a freshman. He took a significant step forward in his 2019 season and continued to play at a high level in USC’s abbreviated 2020 season.
Tuipulotu was routinely disruptive but isn’t getting much attention by the media at the national level. Could he be a high-value sleeper on the second day of the draft?
Prospect: Marlon Tuipulotu
Games Watched: vs. Oregon (2019), vs. UCLA (2020), vs. Oregon (2020)
Red Flags: Back surgery - 2017
Games Played: 30
Tackles For a loss: 15.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 3
Games Played: 5
Tackles For a loss: 3.5
Forced Fumbles: 1
Passes Defensed: 0
Best: Quickness, agility, upper body strength, hand usage
Worst: Base width, play strength against double teams
Projection: Starting iDL (3, 4i, or 5 technique) in a one-gap attacking defense.
(Tuipulotu is DT no. 93)
USC defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu has a good blend of size, athleticism, and play strength to play the position at the NFL level.
Tuipulotu typically aligned as the 1-technique or nose tackle in USC’s defense, though he also lined up as a B-gap defender on occasion. He shows good flexibility in his lower body, settling into a compact stance before firing out with a good first step. Tuipulotu has heavy, active hands which he uses to keep himself clean during his rushes or discard blockers when the time comes to make a play on the ball. Tuipulotu blends quickness and power into his rushes, able to win as a gap shooter or as a bull-rusher.
Tuipulotu shows good play strength when meeting blockers one-on-one as a run defender. He is difficult for individual blockers to move off the line of scrimmage when he’s playing with good leverage. He does a very good job of leveraging gaps, routinely putting his hips in his gap responsibility, allowing him to shed blockers and make plays when they are there to be made. He also shows good upper body strength to stay extended and keep linemen from locking in and sustaining their blocks. Finally, Tuipulotu has great competitive toughness, giving consistent effort, both in his rushes and when pursuing the ball carrier.
But while Tuipulotu has plenty of upper-body strength to deal with one-on-one blocks, he struggles when asked to stand up to double-teams. He lacks the mass ordinarily associated with nose tackles, and can be moved off the ball by concerted double-teams. Part of the issues is a tendency to allow his base to narrow and sacrifice the leverage with which he normally plays. But also, his game is more predicated on explosive power in his first step and winning early, as opposed to playing with overwhelming strength and grinding out wins.
Overall Grade: 8.3 - This prospect has the traits to be an effective starter early in his career in the right system at the NFL level.
Marlon Tuipulotu projects as a starting interior defensive lineman in a one-gap, attacking defensive front.
While he mostly played the 0 or 1-technique nose tackle for USC, he projects better as a 3, 4i, or 5-technique at the NFL level. Those positions would allow him to attack the B-gap and play with quickness and power, as opposed to being a block-eater. Tuipulotu has a versatile enough frame to play in 3-man, 4-man, hybrid, or multiple fronts as long as they are based on one-gap schemes.
Tuipulotu shows great competitive toughness and hustle throughout the rep, playing hard on both pass rush and run defense. He shows surprising lower body quickness and fluidity for a bigger defender, which allows him to pick his way through the traffic at the line of scrimmage relatively easily. He tracks the ball well in the backfield and is quick to switch from rush to pursuit, and consistently plays through the echo of the whistle.
Tuipulotu should find a starting job relatively early in his NFL career, particularly for a defense which values disruption from its interior defensive linemen. He may never a big sack producer, but he should be a headache for opposing blockers and a consistent presence in opposing backfields.