Houston Texans: 6 Players to target in the third round of the NFL Draft
By Peter Manfre
Tuli Tuipulotu DL, USC
This really might go down as one of the best defensive line classes of the last ten years when it's all said and done. Tuipulotu should be a second-round pick, but many mocks have him sliding to the top of the third round as there are 12 other impressive first and second-round defensive linemen scouts project to be drafted ahead of him.
Some reasons why he's fallen down the board have to go with the confusion with his size. Throughout the year, the USC defensive star was listed at 6'4" and 290 pounds but measured at 6'3" and 266 pounds at the combine. That's almost a 30-pound difference and, when your play on the defensive line, that makes a huge difference.
Speaking of making a huge difference, Tuipulotu made offenses look silly in 2022 on his way to the Pack 12 Defensive Player of the Year award after leading the country with 13.5 sacks. He's not just a sack specialist either, the USC Trojan also recorded 22 tackles for loss, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles in 14 starts. That is incredible production, regardless of the competition.
The former Trojan was also used all around the defensive front, which gives him the versatility that Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans might fall in love with. Tuipulotu has an exciting blend of speed and power that he utilized all over the line. His arsenal of pass-rushing moves from each position on the defensive line is also a big plus.
There is a little bit of a gray area as to where Tuipulotu belongs on the defensive line in the NFL. His lack of size and length, as he only has 32-inch arms, makes it hard to convince a defensive coordinator he can play as an edge, but his 266-pound frame won't work inside, either.
Tuipulotu is an average run defender, and his lack of understanding of gap control or being a selfish defender got him out of position. What I mean by "selfish" is Tuipulotu was the best defender on the front seven and played Superman most downs, which led to him losing gap control to try and make a big play. I also believe he understands gap control; however, he was trying to do too much and carry the defense. Again, this is a coachable area he can grow in.
Any team that drafts Tuipulotu does so with a plan in mind as to what his role in defense needs to be for that team. I do believe if the Texans select him, they'll ask him to bulk up to play inside on the defensive line next to Sheldon Rankins and behind Maliek Collins in year one.