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2021 Cowboys scouting report: USC defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu

USC has produced some great defensive tackles lately.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 18 Pac-12 Championship Game - Oregon v USC Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The story of Marlon Tuipulotu so far is one of continued growth and progression. In high school, Tuipulotu was a standout pass rusher and also won a state championship as a wrestler before earning a scholarship to USC, where many other great interior defensive linemen have played before. Tuipulotu joined up with fellow defensive tackle Jay Tufele, also in this draft class, to give Trojans fans something to get really excited about.

Name: Marlon Tuipulotu
Position: DT
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 305 lbs

2020 Stats: 5 games, 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble

Unfortunately, Tuipulotu’s freshman year was cut short just three games in due to a back injury. After taking time to heal up, he came back with a vengeance in 2018. Playing in all 12 games, he registered 33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. The next year, he had 46 tackles, six tackles for loss, and two sacks.

His partner, Tufele, chose to opt out of the 2020 season, and that meant offensive lines paid much more attention to Tuipulotu as a result. This explains the dip in some of his numbers this year, but Tuipulotu was still a force to be reckoned with. It’s why he was named to the first team All-Pac 12 at the end of the year.

Burst: Tuipulotu has an incredible burst out of his stance. He gets off the line so quick that opposing linemen spend most of the early portion of the rep simply trying to get back in position. A lot of his success on pass rush reps stem from how quickly he’s coming down upon his blockers.

Footwork: He displays a lot of sloppy footwork, as he tries to use his speed to win each rep. While he’s had success with that plan more often than not, you’d like to see him do a better job of anchoring and maintaining leverage, and he just isn’t very consistent there.

Hand Technique: Tuipulotu has shown an ability to use his hands well with blockers but he goes to that well far too rarely. Again, he understands his athletic advantage over most opposing linemen and uses that as his main weapon, and it’s led to him being a little underdeveloped in this area.

Pass Rush Moves: He loves the bull rush, and for good reason: he’s gotten a lot of production out of it. It’s his first, second, and third plan of attack on pass rushing downs. You’d like to see him develop some more tools, but it’s hard to argue with the results he gets from the bull rush.

Lateral Agility: Tuipulotu moves incredibly well for his size, and it’s never more apparent than when he’s pulling across the line of scrimmage on stunts or in run defense. He just moves so naturally and fluidly.

Athleticism: Yeah, you guessed it: he is very athletic. He’s got great burst and that translates well into sustained speed. His motor runs hot and keeps running, giving him three-down value that’s rare in this defensive tackle class.

Run Defense: For as much his athleticism helps him out as a pass rusher, Tuipulotu is arguably even better at defending the run. His lateral agility certainly helps, and he does a great job of reading the backfield and inserting himself wherever he needs to be. His splash plays will show a raw, twitchy interior pass rusher but the tape shows potential to be a dominant run stopper as well.

Processing: Tuipulotu often found himself in the right position to make a play and that was largely because he diagnoses the play so quickly. It’s a big reason why he’s so good at run defense, but he also has an ability to sniff out screens and quick slants because of how quickly he processes what’s happening in front of him.

Toughness: One of the reasons he gets to those screens and quick throws is because he plays with a fire in his belly. He’s never out of a play, and even on deep passes down the field you can usually see Tuipulotu turn and run that direction as well, always looking to impact the game in some manner.

Intangibles: A big part of Tuipulotu’s success his sophomore and junior year was because of how dangerous of a duo he and Tufele were on the interior of the Trojans defensive line. So when Tufele opted out, Tuipulotu became the sole leader of that group, and he responded well, earning all conference honors. That ability to step up when others are out should not go unnoticed.