Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt came into this season with sky high expectations after a hugely productive sophomore campaign along with Louis Nix III. Both were projected to go in the early first round. Tuitt had some fundamental flaws with his pad level and leverage but he was still able to put up big numbers and the tandem of Tuitt and Nix were really impressive. He has experience at end both in an even and odd front as well as defensive tackle inside in an even front.
Unfortunately for Tuitt, he dealt with a sports hernia and came into the season heavy. He was still able to have a solid year on the stat sheet, but he did not really address the concerns he had coming into the year. Nevertheless, along with Nix, who had his own issues this season, opted to declare for the NFL Draft, betting on his incredible athletic ability.
Projecting to the NFL, Tuitt is a remarkable athlete with an untapped amount of upside still to be found. He is still a project as he struggles to play low or behind his hands and tends to be a mediocre run defender in terms of winning at the point of attack, but he is a productive pass rusher. Tuitt’s potential is sky high because if he works on and embraces technique, he goes from a super athletic but unfinished product to a full service defensive lineman who also possesses special athleticism. On the merits, Tuitt is a top 100 pick, but he could go much, much higher, likely in the second round and possibly even sneaking into the first based on the superstar he can be rather than what he actually is.
Vitals & Build
Tuitt measured in 6’5″ 304lbs with 34 3/4″ arms at the scouting combine after playing much heavier in his junior year. This added weight really worked against what he wants to do as a player and he really seems like he would be much happier as a player if he lost much more and became a pure defensive end. Tuitt’s athleticism is remarkable as he has impressive burst and raw speed. He has good strength but has trouble maximizing it from a functional standpoint. Tuitt’s potential is pretty substantial if he can get more comfortable playing low and unlocking that immense amount of strength that would only make his speed look even more effective as a player.
Snap Anticipation & First Step
Tuitt does a good job of anticipating the snap. He fires off of the ball well in terms of timing and is able to get a good jump on the play.
The problem is his first step. And it is not the step itself, but how he stands up as he steps. Tuitt will use a range of stances that are all effective and look to be aimed at dealing with the problem, but so much of his momentum is going up rather than forward. In fact, Tuitt will use a downward dog stance that has his shoulders aimed at the ground, but still comes straight up out of it. It is actually a remarkable show of athleticism, but it is a huge detriment on the field.
Tuitt stands up and looks every bit of his height, immediately exposing his chest and working against his natural length. He has an unbelievably difficult time getting low and playing with any kind of leverage or playing behind his hands. As a result, Tuitt has to work so much harder to win with power and is that much more likely to go to his speed game, limiting his overall ability as a player.
Tuitt almost wins exclusively with quickness when it comes to shedding blocks. He has a difficult time bending and playing behind his hands as well as having leverage. When he wins with his hands, it tends to be a swim move or some other quick, shock type move. The times he wins with power are generally when he simply overpowers an opponent, drops his shoulder into them and can drive his legs.
Bigger, stronger NFL linemen who win with leverage and hand use are going to be able to handle that effectively. His swim move is great, but only encourages him to play tall, which exposes his chest or side depending on his angle. Tuitt has a lot of work to do to improve here, so he can do more than beat people he can simply beat with speed.
When it comes to the run, Tuitt’s inability to play behind his hands and from a point of good leverage makes it extremely difficult. Occasionally, he gets angry and can simply overpower and manhandle opponents to win with power, but for the most part, he plays laterally. Tuitt wants to run around opponents as opposed to through them.
There are situations where Tuitt is athletic and quick enough to bend around the outside and can get in and make the tackle, but too often he ends up going up field, abandoning his gap and creating a running lane behind him. He will also try to hold his ground and then use a quick swim move or spin move to get to the ball carrier.
Tuitt runs into problems when he tries to go with so many quick moves and does not balance it out with power as opponents sit on his quickness and take advantage. So, when he goes for the swim and exposes his flank, opposing offensive linemen will just drive him out of the play. And the swim move is good for players who are tall, but it only feeds into Tuitt’s want to play too tall and makes it difficult for him to gain leverage.
Where Tuitt is great is in terms of his range and ability to work down the line. He is also exceptional when opponents want to try to run out wide and he can string plays out while being a huge threat to just make the tackle himself.
There is no questioning Tuitt’s athleticism. The issue he has got to address is how willing he is to do the dirty work. He makes it incredibly difficult for anyone to play him inside as a defensive tackle and even as an end, he has to be more willing to use power, play low and use strength to redefine the line of scrimmage. The ability is there for Tuitt and it just comes down to mindset and how much he wants to do it.
Tuitt has a lot of potential as a pass rusher because he is so athletic. Lined up outside, even at his size, he is able to get up the field, win with speed and quickness and bend around the edge. He still wants to win with speed and quickness too much, but his power is extremely viable and there are times when he is able to catch opponents and just drive them straight into the quarterback.
In general, Tuitt still plays too high and needs to get lower and more varied in his moves. While he can occasionally win inside at defensive tackle, he is not nearly as comfortable as he is lined up on the edge. He wants to go around opponents as much as he can and that is obviously much more difficult from a tackle spot.
Tuitt’s burst and closing speed are both extremely impressive and there are times when quarterbacks are almost a deer in headlights when they see him coming. He also plays extremely hard and gets a lot of second effort plays or takes advantage of opportunities created by teammates that he can finish.
There is a ton of potential with Tuitt and his ability to rush the passer, but where he can be and where he is now are a stark difference. Right now, he is a finesse defensive end who occasionally uses power. If he can embrace his strength and power and harness it, he becomes a dangerous full service player.
Tuitt’s best fit is as a 5-tech defensive end in a 1-gap scheme. This is everything that Tuitt wants to be able to do. He has the space and ability to attack up the field, he can rush the passer from there and he is only taking on one blocker for the most part. The problem for Tuitt is that right now, he is a situational pass rusher until he can establish himself as a better anchor against the run.
Someone is going to draft him high and he is probably going to be pressed into action, but he will struggle to anchor and hold up at the point of attack against the run until he can do a better job getting low.
Tuitt has the athleticism to slide inside and play a rush tackle spot, but his style of play goes against that right now. He likes to be able to have the ability to attack to the outside and go up the field. If he can use his strength and embrace playing low, he can not only be a great rush option from there, he can just be a full service defensive tackle.
Tuitt bears a lot of similarities to Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals. Like Tuitt, Campbell had a tremendous amount of buzz early in his career with many projecting him to be a first round pick. Both players had a lot of potential but were ultimately unfinished products, which is how Campbell ended up in the middle of the second round in the 2008 draft. Campbell, along with the Cardinals, managed to address the issues he had coming out of college and allowed for him to flourish as an NFL player. Tuitt could have the same path to success.
Stephon Tuitt is a remarkable athletic specimen who can flash an incredible amount of ability. He just needs to get better at playing lower and more effectively with his hands, so he can be a better run defender. It would also allow him to be an even more dangerous pass rusher, giving opponents more to think about and fear. There is no doubting Tuitt’s potential and his capacity to be a star in the NFL, but if he does not get better at playing low, he is a relatively limited player. Nevertheless, Tuitt warrants a top 100 pick but it would a surprise if a team does not talk themselves into convincing themselves that they can get him to the superstar he can be and takes him as early as the late first round but more likely somewhere in the second round.
Some of the film used in this scouting breakdown was provided by the good folks at draftbreakdown.com