By: Jack Borowsky | @Jack_Borowsky
USC is a factory when it comes to producing NFL Draft prospects. Year in and year out, Trojans are drafted in droves. The last time they didn’t have a top 100 selection was back in 1989. This season is no different for the red and gold. The Trojans have big-name prospects like Jay Tufele, Alijah-Vera Tucker and Amon-Ra St. Brown, who all look like top 50 locks.
Throw in an elite safety duo in Talanoa Hufanga and Isaiah Pola-Mao and that list could grow. All of those prospects get the hype they deserve, routinely mocked in the first few rounds. The best draft-eligible prospect on this USC roster isn’t any of the names mentioned above but someone who has been wreaking havoc all season long for USC: Marlon Tuipulotu.
Coming out of high school, Tuipulotu was a big-time recruit. He was ranked 13th in the nation by 247 sports and deservedly so, with numerous accolades and high-level testing numbers. It looked like Tuipulotu was going to have a big-time role but a back injury prevented him from playing as a freshman.
That injury didn’t stop him from coming back at full strength as a redshirt freshman and starting for the Trojans. This was when he started to get the attention of evaluators, recording four and a half sacks. Few interior guys at that age can put up those kinds of numbers, especially in their first year. His performance against Notre Dame in the final game of the season was eye-opening, as he had two sacks against one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Then in 2019, Tuipulotu picked up right where he left off. On film, what made him so impressive, was the fact that he was such a dominant run stopper but Tuipulotu could also contribute as a pass rusher. Tuipulotu was consistent from week-to-week and looked like he had a future at the next level.
To become a high-level prospect, there were still some question marks surrounding his overall pass-rush prowess. To get into the first few rounds of the draft, as an interior player, teams need to see someone get after the quarterback with ease.
That has been the case this season. Tuipulotu would have been a first-team All-American had the Trojans played as many games as other teams. He was an elite pass rusher, showing violent hands, relentless pursuit and a constant motor. He had seven total pressures in the first two games of the season and was the Trojans’ best run defender. He followed up those performances with one of the best games of his career against Utah, in which he had six total pressures and a strip-sack.
This is a Utah offensive line that is one of the best in the nation and Tuipulotu looked like the best player on the field. In a full season, Tuipulotu was on pace for 30 total pressures. He took on double teams in more of a nose tackle role while still getting to the quarterback. Tuipulotu was named a first-team All-Pac 12 selection, as he was the best player at his position in the conference this season.
With his overall athleticism at 305 pounds, Tuipulotu projects well as a defensive tackle in a four-man front. He has the strength to be a huge factor in the run game but the technique to be an excellent penetrator from the interior. Tuipulotu isn’t a one-trick pony but rather a complete player.
The upside is there with Tuipulotu too. He isn’t a finished product, which is why he is such an enticing prospect. His leadership and work ethic are seen on the field with his effort and overall improvement. He had to take on a big responsibility as the veteran on a younger defensive front and with the way he’s running mates fed off of him, it is an encouraging sign for who Tuipulotu is off the field.
There isn’t a box that Tuipulotu doesn’t check and with a premium placed on quality interior defensive linemen, there is no reason why couldn’t end up as a surprise first-round pick on draft night. The talent, potential and character are all there for Tuipulotu to be the first USC Trojan off the board in the 2021 NFL Draft