USC has had a nice track record of defensive players since Pete Carroll was there, especially when it comes to the linebacker position. This year, the Trojans defense features a talented, junior linebacker in Hayes Pullard. Pullard is a terrific athlete that is still somewhat raw but has flashes of brilliance for the Trojans and could be scary when the light goes on for him. Even so, as a sophomore, Pullard tallied 55 solo tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception which he took back and scored.
Pullard is explosive and when he trusts what he sees, he can fly around the field and make an impact against the run, pass, or as a pass rusher. He needs to continue to improve his instincts, how well he diagnoses plays and his fundamentals virtually across the board, but he has time to do it and some small improvements could make a big difference for Pullard as a player. If Pullard can put it together with his technique, he could potentially decide to leave early and be a top 100 pick as a weak side linebacker, but at the moment, he looks like a day three pick and someone likely to stay for their senior season.
Vitals & Build
Pullard is listed at 6’1” 235lbs and is incredibly explosive. He has good body control and is able to change directions well. His top speed might be good but it is not as impressive as his quickness and acceleration. Pullard demonstrates decent strength but needs to continue improving and appears to have the frame to add weight without much issue. If he can maintain his athleticism at around the 240lb mark, he will be pretty close to the prototype from a weight and speed standpoint.
Pullard’s tackling is problematic. He has the ability to be a good tackler but has a number of bad habits that get him in trouble. Pullard likes to leave his feet and dive far too often. He will go for the homerun hit and throw himself at opponents, but when he misses or misjudges, he comes up with a weak effort and it looks bad.
On the other hand, Pullard does a good job of wrapping up with his arms and has a lot of success with tackling, purely because of it, but if he keeps his feet under him, he will have more power and consistency. The scary issue that Pullard has is when he puts his head down. Even though he is looking to wrap up, he ends up leading with his head and his helmet makes the first contact on the ball carrier. This is not only extremely precarious for concussions but he could seriously injure his neck as well. It is imperative that he works to keep his head up to protect himself, but also because he will have better success because he sees what he is hitting.
So much of what Pullard is able to do as a run defender comes down to what he sees. When he is right with his instincts and his read, he can blow up running plays before they start. He is able to shoot gaps and get into the backfield and take down the running back for a huge tackle for loss. Pullard does a pretty good job of maneuvering within the box to get in position to make a strong tackle and he can be quick enough to get to the hole before the linemen do and shut it down. When he is able to get in the hole, he does show good strength and can make an impact tackle while knocking the opponent into the backfield.
The problem is when Pullard is hesitant or makes the wrong read, he plays at a completely different speed and is just a completely different player in these situations. His angles can be iffy and he is not aggressive when it comes to taking on blocks, opting to try to get around them and use his speed. At times, he flashes the ability to take on and shed, but those are far closer to the exception than the rule and it is something he needs to continue to work to improve.
Pullard has a ton of range and can cover sideline to sideline when he reads right, so as long as he continues to work to improve his instincts and ability to diagnose, he can be a good run and chase linebacker. If he can continue to work on taking on and shedding blocks, Pullard can be a whole lot more.
Pullard is more than athletic enough to be a versatile coverage option and is a developing three down backer. He has shown he can keep up with some wide receivers but he is well equipped to cover running backs out of the backfield. The concern with Pullard is tight ends that have a natural size advantage against him.
In zone, Pullard can get into his drops quickly and show a ton of range, but it comes down to his instincts and getting a better feel for where the opponent is trying to go with the football. Pullard has the ability to break on the ball quickly and if he can read the quarterback’s eyes, he can be a dangerous threat to cause turnovers cutting underneath on passes.
In man coverage, Pullard has a pretty good sense of angles, especially when it comes to covering backs out of the backfield. He is athletic enough to keep up with speed as well as possessing the hips to change direction.
Pass Rush & Blitz ability
Pullard is a nice speed threat in a blitz package. He is far more effective being used to attack quickly on the inside rather than from the outside because he does not react well to being blocked. Rather than really fighting to defeat the block, he tends to get washed out of plays and seemingly give up as a result. On the inside, his ability to shoot gaps makes Pullard a threat and he has shown that while his tackling technique is inconsistent, his results in the backfield tend to be pretty good.
Pullard has had a good amount of success as a run blitzer as well as coming after the quarterback, but he needs to develop more in terms of moves to beat blocks. He will still make the occasional play, but Pullard limits how good he can be in that role unless he improves.
As it stands right now, Pullard’s best fit is as a 4-3 weak side linebacker but he could also be a protected 3-4 inside linebacker. He needs to improve his instincts in either scenario but he offers someone with the ability to contribute as a coverage linebacker with the speed and range to be a run and chase linebacker. In the 3-4, as long as he is protected, he can fly around and make plays as well as be a blitz option up the middle that can sniff out plays before they start.
|Thu, Aug. 29||at Hawaii|
|Sat, Sept. 7||vs. Washington State|
|Sat, Sept. 14||vs. Boston College|
|Sat, Sept. 21||vs. Utah State|
|Sat, Sept. 28||at Arizona State|
|Thu, Oct. 10||vs. Arizona|
|Sat, Oct. 19||at Notre Dame|
|Sat, Oct. 26||vs. Utah|
|Fri, Nov. 1||at Oregon State|
|Sat, Nov. 9||at Cal|
|Sat, Nov. 23||at Colorado|
|Fri, Nov. 29||vs. UCLA|
The first good test for Pullard is against Arizona in the Coliseum. Ka’Deem Carey is one of the most balanced and biggest running back threats in the country and he should test Pullard as a run defender and in coverage as a result. Arizona’s spread also could allow Pullard to show off his range. The game against Notre Dame still features a spread but in an evening in South Bend, the game could turn into more of a slugfest than against Arizona the previous week. The regular season finale is huge with the way UCLA beat them last year as well as the impression that the Bruins are making a push to take over Los Angeles. Brett Hundley is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country and is a dual threat that will put a significant amount of pressure on Pullard to make plays and not miss tackles.
Based on what he has shown so far, Pullard’s game is probably similar to that of Tim Shaw of the Tennessee Titans. Shaw was a fifth round pick of the Carolina Panthers who was drafted almost entirely off of measurables coming out of Penn State. He has mostly been a special teams threat who could help out as a depth linebacker. Right now, that is where Pullard is at in terms of his development, but he can certainly get much better.
Athletically, Hayes Pullard is incredibly impressive and looks the part of an NFL linebacker and he made a number of big plays as a sophomore. His technique is still a work in progress as are his instincts and while he looks like a day three prospect likely to stay his senior year right now, he is a player that could really come into his own as a junior and make a significant jump up draft boards. If the light goes on, Pullard could be a completely different player and the big plays will be more of a regularity rather than a flash of what he could be in the future.