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With draft day just under 25 days away, the actual NFL draft and not the Kevin Costner film, speculation about which player a team is going to take are heating up. With the Patriots being one of the most exciting teams to watch in the draft, whether it be trading high picks for multiple lower round picks or drafting punters in the fifth round, New England never fails to surprise. And thus begins the speculation of “experts” and amateurs alike.
Heading into the 2014 season there are a few areas that New England could address. The offensive line could always use more depth, the wide receiver corps has been heavily criticized this past season, the tight end position has not been the same since ol’ what’shisname became one of the most notorious people in New England, and the defensive line could use a little overhaul.
The defensive line is where we’ll focus our attentions today and one of the most popular names to likely still be lingering around when selection 29 hits the board is Stephon Tuitt from the University of Notre Dame.
Tuitt made a name for himself during his sophomore season with the Fighting Irish in 2012. During Notre Dame’s run to the title game he tallied 47 tackles, 13 tackles for a loss, a team leading 12 sacks, three forced fumbles which included a 77-yard recovery for a touchdown, one pass deflection and a blocked kick. After undergoing hernia surgery in the offseason his junior season was only slightly less productive.
If there is one word that describes why Tuitt would be an intriguing pick for the Patriots, it’s versatility. He is about as versatile a lineman as there is in the coming draft. At 6’5″ and 304 pounds he has the size of an interior lineman but by all accounts he has the speed of a defensive end.
His strength, 31 bench press reps at the combine, and arm length are what make him effective as a rush defender. Tuitt is able to keep blockers at bay while he scans for the ball carrier before shedding the blocker and closing for the tackle. According to NFL.com, “has excellent movement skill for a man of his size.” While he is not a run-stuffer like say Vince Wilfork, he is a solid run-defender who is good at wrapping up at the point of attack. He is described as a patient player who plays his assignment.
His pass defense isn’t as dominant but is still effective. His size allows him to bull rush and push the pocket while his lengthy arms and large hands can disrupt passing lanes. He has the quickness to get around the edge on occasion but more often than not is better at cleaning up what’s left.
Tuitt is not without his weaknesses. His durability has become a question since he suffered from a hernia after his sophomore season and missing most of the combine due to a foot fracture. Film also shows that he is a little slow off the ball and needs to improve his anticipation of the snap. Occasionally his pad level is too high and he loses the advantage of his size and strength. Also, he needs to develop more moves in order to improve in the pass rush.
Overall, Tuitt’s positives outweigh the negatives. He is only 20 years old and most of his weaknesses are areas that can be corrected via coaching. He is scheme-adaptable and can line up as an end or tackle in even and odd fronts. And with a coach like Bill Belichick his athleticism could even find him time in an offensive set (he played some tight end in high school).