Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Washington OLB | NFL Draft Scouting Report

Four games, 7 sacks. That was the stat line for Washington OLB and NFL Draft prospect Zion Tupuola-Fetui for the 2020 season. On paper, Tupuola-Fetui has the unyielding efficiency of a menace on the defensive line. But does his scouting report translate to the next level, and how will he progress after a recent setback?

Zion Tupuola-Fetui NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Outside Linebacker
  • School: Washington
  • Current Year: Redshirt Junior
  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 280 pounds

Zion Tupuola-Fetui Scouting Report

The NFL is slowly becoming more and more position-averse. Traditionally, positional bounds have been fairly stringent. Now, however, those boundaries are starting to fade. Players can traverse across multiple positional spectrums and fulfill a multitude of roles. Designations still matter, of course, but the most versatile players can’t be confined to one title.

Upon surface-level analysis, Tupuola-Fetui’s NFL Draft scouting report has a peculiar brand of versatility. The Washington product is listed as an OLB on his team’s website, but he stands around 6’4″, 280 pounds. With this profile, questions naturally precipitate. Just what kind of defender is Tupuola-Fetui, exactly? Let’s dive into the tape and discuss.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui’s athletic profile

You may not find an athlete more unique in all of your NFL Draft studies than Tupuola-Fetui. His size already generates curiosity, and his athletic traits do the same. Tupuola-Fetui has a unique frame; he’s stout and well-leveraged but also has excellent proportional length. He flashes good lateral mobility and twitch for his size, and he owns definite explosiveness off the line.

With his initial burst and imposing frame, Tupuola-Fetui carries a ton of momentum into the pocket. He can deliver some jarring hits as a result. With his length, mass, and explosiveness, he can pry apart double-teams. He carries a lot of power with his extensions, and his length allows him to set the edge in run defense.

Tupuola-Fetui’s length is an impressive foundational part of his game, but his strong base provides plenty of value. The Washington OLB’s dense lower body allows him to maintain a level of balance against opposing power, and he possesses exceptional leg drive when extended. He may be listed as an outside linebacker, but he has the size to stunt inside and hold his own.

Execution beyond the physical traits

On the field, Tupuola-Fetui’s NFL Draft scouting report is an exciting one. This isn’t simply because of his athletic traits, but also because of the way he molds physical talent with execution. Already, Tupuola-Fetui has some refinement, and health permitting, he could be an early producer at the NFL level.

Perhaps most notably, Tupuola-Fetui has the capacity to accelerate around the edge and multitask. Some edge defenders have elite explosiveness but can’t sustain that acceleration as they use their hands. Tupuola-Fetui can, and that alone makes him one of the more exciting pass rushers in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Beyond his ability to multitask, Tupuola-Fetui has other important qualities as well. The Washington OLB has fast hands that carry quite a bit of force, and he possesses precision with his long-arm moves. He can wrench down opposing anchors and explode forward from the momentum carried in that transaction of energy.

Among other things, Tupuola-Fetui is a high-effort rusher whose length can jar the ball loose. Furthermore, he’s shown the ability to reset his hands and maintain a strong anchor in run defense, and he has the awareness to adapt and change his approach when he needs to.

Areas for improvement

There’s a lot to like with Tupuola-Fetui’s NFL Draft scouting report. The Washington OLB has tremendous pass-rushing upside, and his versatility along the line also provides plenty of value. Having said that, there are some notes to take into account with the absolute ceiling of his profile.

Athletically, Tupuola-Fetui isn’t perfect. His recovery athleticism can be inconsistent, and he’s not the most flexible player around the edge. Although he has displayed some lean and ankle flexion, he can be more consistent with those traits. Additionally, Tupuola-Fetui’s pursuit speed can be underwhelming at times. Even as an OLB, he doesn’t look natural in space, and he profiles better as a defensive end.

Don’t get it twisted — Tupuola-Fetui is a stellar athlete. Still, a hybrid role along the line might better accentuate his traits. Moreover, Tupuola-Fetui can individually channel his traits more effectively. His grip strength and balance can be inconsistent in run defense, and his balance can also waver when he isn’t the first to extend. He can develop his counters further, and he sometimes has trouble controlling his moves when he comes off the line too fast.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui’s NFL Draft scouting report overview

There’s a lot to take in with Tupuola-Fetui, but we haven’t gone over the most important — and most unfortunate — development yet. In April of 2021, Tupuola-Fetui tore his Achilles during spring workouts.

Tupuola-Fetui will be saddled with a recovery timeline of 6-10 months, essentially ensuring that he won’t play in 2021. Beyond that point, it’s no guarantee that Tupuola-Fetui will retain the explosiveness that made his profile so appealing. And if he does, staying in school for the 2022 season will be the only way for him to recoup lost draft stock. Entering the draft after an Achilles injury is a trepidatious endeavor.

Nevertheless, if he can get healthy and get back to 100%, Tupuola-Fetui is an exciting prospect, either in the 2022 or the 2023 NFL Draft. Even though he’s listed as an OLB on Washington’s website, I think Tupuola-Fetui can be a near game-changing defensive end with his explosiveness, length, and versatility. He has the size to play between 3-technique and 5-technique, and his high-effort style ensures that he’ll get penetration wherever he lines up.

Zion Tupuola-Fetui’s Player Profile

No state is safe from the recruiting frenzy that sweeps the nation during the winter, spring, and summer months. Even as far west as Hawaii, teams will send eyes to watch over top talents coming up the pipeline. Tupuola-Fetui drew this kind of interest back in 2018 when he was playing tight end and defensive lineman for the Chargers of Pearl City, Hawaii.

Standing at 6’3″, 250 pounds, Tupuola-Fetui already had size worthy of a roster spot on a college football team. That size granted him plenty of opportunities. The three-star recruit — ranked 77th at the outside linebacker position — had offers from some of the top schools on the west coast, among them Oregon, Washington State, and Nevada.

Tupuola-Fetui also received an offer from his local Hawaii Rainbow Warriors. Still, the Washington Huskies ultimately won him over, promising potential NFL development under renowned defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake.

Tupuola-Fetui’s career at Washington

True to his word, Tupuola-Fetui made the trek to Washington and enrolled with the Huskies in 2018. He suited up for the purple and gold in 2018 but only played in two games, earning some polarized experience against North Dakota and Ohio State. Playing in only two games, Tupuola-Fetui preserved his redshirt eligibility and returned as a redshirt freshman in 2019.

2019 wasn’t spectacular for Tupuola-Fetui, as he only accrued 9 total tackles in a rotational role. Yet, that campaign proved to be a stepping stone for what would be a dominant, if short, 2020 showing.

In 2020, the Washington OLB only played four games due to the Pac-12’s truncated schedule. In those four games, however, Tupuola-Fetui broke new ground. He made the first four starts of his career and definitively conquered the stat sheet over that span, amassing 13 total tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 1 pass deflection, 1 fumble recovery, and 3 forced fumbles. Not surprisingly, Tupuola-Fetui was named first-team All-Pac-12 and second-team All-American.

Tupuola-Fetui’s NFL Draft ascension

If injuries weren’t a part of the equation, Tupuola-Fetui would be a strong 2022 NFL Draft prospect heading into 2021. He’s athletic, long, urgent, and well-refined to this point. Round 1 would be rich even now, but Day 2 would be a safe range for the Washington OLB, and he’d have potential for further progression. But sadly, injuries do happen, and Tupuola-Fetui’s Achilles setback clouds his outlook.

As unfortunate as it is, Tupuola-Fetui can use this as an opportunity — to fight through adversity one more time and prove to NFL teams that he’s not done yet. Achilles injuries can be severely deteriorating, especially for pass rushers who employ explosiveness on almost every snap. But Tupuola-Fetui wouldn’t be the first to recover. And even if he loses a little bit of juice, a move inside could help not only reinvigorate his drive but also further maximize his potential.

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Ian Cummings is a Draft Analyst for Pro Football Network. You can find his writing here and follow him on Twitter: @IC_Draft.


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