When it comes to the NFL Draft, being labeled a “guard only” prospect is likely puts a definite ceiling on a players’ draft stock. While every NFL team needs two starting caliber guards and at least two back-ups, they don’t necessarily need great athletes at the position. The lack of an athletic premium on the guard position reduces the need to draft one highly to ensure that a team is able to get a player with rare athletic traits.
But fortunately for USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker, he isn’t a “Guard Only” offensive line prospect. Vera-Tucker has experience playing (or backing up) both left and right guard, and spent most of the 2020 season playing the left tackle position as well. Given that he comported himself well enough out at left tackle, there is also the feeling that he could slide inside to play center as well. Even if his eventual home is at guard in the NFL, that kind of potential versatility can be a big boost to a lineman’s draft stock.
Just how much could his versatility help Vera-Tucker’s stock?
Prospect: Alijah Vera-Tucker
Games Watched: vs. BYU (2019), vs. Arizona State (2020), vs. UCLA (2020), vs. Oregon (2020)
Red Flags: Hamstring (2020)
Best: Play strength, leverage, competitive toughness, technique, versatility
Worst: Length, range in pass protection
Projection: A starting guard or center with scheme versatility.
(Vera-Tucker is LG number 75)
USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker has a good blend of size, power, athleticism, and competitive toughness to play on the offensive interior at the NFL level.
Vera-Tucker primarily aligned as a guard in his time at USC, first backing up the right guard position as a red-shirt freshman, then starting 13 games as their left guard. He spent most of USC’s abbreviated 2020 season at left tackle, moving to the position to help the team.
Vera-Tucker has good lower-body flexibility, sitting easily into his stance and playing with good initial leverage after the snap. He is a natural knee bender who plays with a wide base as well as good hip and pad level throughout the play. That leverage serves to unlock his natural play strength, and he is able to create movement off the line of scrimmage as a run blocker or easily absorb bullrushes.
Vera-Tucker has good athleticism for an interior blocker, easily able to match interior pass rushers. He is agile enough to deal with stunts, twists, and blitzes, as well as be an effective pulling guard or blocker in space. He has enough play strength to be an effective man-gap blocker as well as the athleticism to execute in outside zone schemes, giving him good schematic versatility.
Vera-Tucker’s hands can be a bit inconsistent. For the most part he has heavy and active hands, timing his strikes well with his step for maximum power. Sometimes, however, his hands can be wild, particularly when he is trying to cover more ground than usual laterally. In those cases his hands can be late, low or wide, and he can both fail to gain inside leverage on defenders as well as give up his own chest plate. That being said, he has very good grip strength once he establishes his blocks and works to sustain them through the whistle.
He also shows great competitive toughness throughout the play, and a definite “nasty” streak when blocking at the second level or in space. He appears to relish bullying linebackers or defensive backs.
While Vera-Tucker was far from a liability at offensive tackle, he likely lacks the foot quickness and range to stay at the position full time in the NFL. He also struggled against EDGE defenders who were long, athletic, or technically polished. Those players could either get their hands on Vera-Tucker first, stress him with speed, or neutralize his hands with their technique. In those cases, they were able to slip past him and disrupt plays in the backfield. While it didn’t happen often at the NFL level, players with technical refinement and elite physical traits are much more common in the professional ranks.
Overall Grade: 9.0 - This prospect has first round traits to be an immediate starter with scheme diversity and positional versatility.
Alijah Vera-Tucker projects best as a starting interior offensive lineman at the NFL level.
He has experience at both left and right guard, and, assuming he can learn how to snap the ball and get his hands up to block a 0-technique, the athleticism to be a starting center as well.
Vera-Tucker has experience backing up and playing the tackle position, but he should probably be looked at more as an insurance policy for the tackle spots. He has good athleticism for an interior defender, but isn’t quite quick or agile enough to make up for his lack of length at tackle and that shows up on occasion blocking EDGE defenders. On the inside his pad level and play strength allow him to absorb rushes from defensive tackles, even when they’re long-levered and are able to get their hands on him first.
But while he might have marginal athleticism for a tackle, he has great movement skills for a guard, which should allow him to play in any NFL blocking scheme. He has the strength and agility to block in man-gap schemes, including executing as a pulling guard. Likewise, he has enough movement skills to stay in sync with his linemates on zone blocking plays. He also has enough speed to get out in front of screen plays or hustle downfield to make blocks in space.
There are few real flaws in Vera-Tucker’s game, and the biggest drag on his draft stock will be his positional value. That being said, his potential as a center and ability to back up the tackle position — as well as scheme versatility — should help mitigate some concerns over value.