Highly regarded as one of the best defensive players in the Pac-12, USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele heads to the 2021 NFL Draft after opting-out of the 2020 college football season. Can he be one of the first interior defensive linemen taken in what isn’t a particularly deep class at the position?
Jay Tufele NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Defensive Tackle
- School: Southern California
- Current Year: Redshirt Junior
- Height: 6’3″
- Weight: 315 pounds
Jay Tufele has seemed destined for the 2021 NFL Draft from a young age. The explosive defensive tackle was a sensation in the state of Utah playing for Bingham High School. A former rugby player, Tufele attracted his first collegiate offer prior to his junior high school season. As the number one ranked player in the state, it was only appropriate that the first offer would come from the Utah Utes.
The offer came following a 2014 season where he earned Sophomore All-American honors. He racked up 63 tackles and 6 sacks as a high school sophomore. The year after, as a junior, he leveled up his production with 10.5 sacks, earning Salt Lake Tribune MVP honors. Athletic, explosive, and dominant, he was viewed as the third-ranked defensive tackle in the nation.
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By the time his senior season came around, offers had rolled in from nearly all Pac-12 schools. He garnered national attention with offers from Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Miami, amongst others. Despite missing the entire 2016 season with a torn ligament, the interest from teams — or his reputation — never wavered.
Although he reportedly referenced Oregon as a potential destination, Tufele narrowed down his choice to three other teams. In early February 2017, he announced his commitment to USC over BYU and Utah.
Jay Tufele’s college football career at USC
The coaches at Bingham had kept him out his entire senior season with one eye on his freshman collegiate season. He could have returned for the end of the season. However, they were so sure the dominant defender would have an immediate impact wherever he landed that they wanted to ensure he was in the best possible shape.
Unfortunately for Jay Tufele, the next step on the path to the NFL Draft would be another year away from game action. As is often the case with players in the trenches, USC wanted the freshman to hit the weight room so he was properly prepared for the enhanced physicality of the college game. Demonstrating a tremendous work ethic and commitment to development, he was honored by the program for his work on the practice field.
All the hard work came to fruition for the USC defensive tackle in 2018
Tufele made five starts while appearing in 12 games. His USC career got off to an explosive start with his first sack and tackle for loss against UNLV. He recovered a fumble for a touchdown against Utah before a standout game against Oregon State. Tufele terrorized the Beavers to a tune of 5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks. His performances earned him All-Pac-12 Second Team honors.
Tufele transformed those honors into All-Pac-12 First Team Honors as a redshirt sophomore. He continued to be one of the most disruptive interior defensive tackles in the nation. In 2019, he added 41 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks, to his résumé. Those numbers included a career-high 6 tackles against Stanford early in the season.
Although he reportedly considered declaring for the draft following the 2019 season, he returned to USC. Amidst the disruption and uncertainty of the Pac-12 season, he never saw the field again as a Trojan. A two-time USC Defensive Lineman of the Year, Jay Tufele opted out of the 2020 season in August and declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Jay Tufele’s NFL Draft Profile
The athletic attributes that made USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele a highly touted high school recruit are his selling point as a 2021 NFL Draft prospect. Guys who are 6’3″ and 315 pounds are simply not meant to move that well. His athleticism presents itself in two very distinct ways.
The first is his explosiveness. His movement when the ball snaps is akin to a bullet being fired out of a gun. His get off is so fast. That helps him be disruptive both against the run and as a pass rusher. Opposition offensive lines have to game plan to counter this explosiveness. As a result, you’ll often see him attracting double teams on running downs. This frees up other defensive players to attack with more freedom.
The second way is with agility and overall speed. His ability to effortlessly change direction is a joy to watch. He is nimble on his feet and fluid in his movement. In a piece for PFN back in August, Dalton Miller referred to Tufele as a dancing bear, and honestly, there is no word or phrase that describes him better.
As mentioned earlier, he is strong both against the run and as a pass rusher. This composition will allow him to be a three-down defensive tackle in the NFL. Against the pass, he combines his athleticism with violent hands and a couple of pass rush moves to overcome single blockers.
What are some potential concerns with Jay Tufele?
Although there is plenty to love with USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele, there are some minor areas for improvement ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft. Although he exhibits some nice pass rush moves, he will need to develop a greater toolbox of moves if he wants to consistently win at the next level.
Consistency is the key. Despite demonstrating violent hands and an understanding of hand usage, he needs to ensure that he maintains a consistent approach to that hand usage at the line of scrimmage.
Finally, he can be guilty of playing with a high pad level which leaves his chest open to attack.
Jay Tufele’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele has all the attributes to be one of the first interior defensive linemen selected in the 2021 NFL Draft. Due to his value as a run stopper and pass rusher, he should be an early starter as a three-down defensive lineman. He projects to play as a 3-tech defensive tackle in the NFL but has shown the versatility to line up at multiple alignments.
Despite a flurry of first-round mock draft appearances, in his latest big board for Pro Football Network Tony Pauline has a third-round grade on USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele. He lists Tufele as his seventh-ranked defensive tackle and 101st overall prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.
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Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.