The USC Trojans have been able to put an increasingly talented defense on the field in the past few years. The sanctions and departure of Pete Carroll were a huge setback, but the Trojans’ Devon Kennard was one of the most productive players in college football last year, winning the Lott IMPACT Award. Kennard is gone, but Hayes Pullard was a productive junior that has a chance to be an even better senior and be a better player than Kennard as well as a much better NFL prospect.
Pullard opted to stay for his senior year and it could allow him to be a far more complete player. He showed flashes of being a complete inside linebacker in 2013 but was also inconsistent. There is nothing Pullard cannot do and his highlights are outstanding, but he sometimes showed a confusing lack of awareness and there are some aspects he can still improve as a senior. Pullard plays like someone who is really close to having the game really slow down for him and go from being a good player to a truly great one. He is a disruptive force that makes impact plays in every game and is getting smarter and more instinctive seemingly by the week.
Pullard demonstrates the range, speed and ability to make plays inside and out, has shown an ability to take on and shed blocks as well as slip them. He can also make plays in the passing game, both in coverage as well as a pass rushing threat. The result is Pullard was able to make big plays in every game of the season and change the momentum in a few games.
In addition to simply continuing to get bigger and stronger, Pullard can do a better job as a tackler, improve his angles and take the next step as an instinctive linebacker and knowing when and how to see what is developing in front of him and reacting accordingly, even if that sometimes requires him to go off script. If he can do that, the decision to stay for his senior year will pay off in a big way and allow him to be far more ready to contribute in the NFL as a rookie.
Vitals & Build
- Date of birth not listed
- 6’1″ 230lbs (listed)
Pullard is a little undersized for the position but he really does not play it. He has a good amount of strength without looking bulky, generates momentum and power quickly, able to match up against guys much bigger than he is. Another offseason of quality work in the weight room could really allow him to be a surprise for opponents expecting to be able to overpower him at the point of attack.
Pullard is explosive, able to come forward quickly and gather a head of steam in a hurry. His overall speed is good, but not great as opponents are able to get by him going to the edge. His lateral agility is good, but he can drift too high and make it difficult for him to redirect or adjust quickly. When Pullard is able to stay low, he demonstrates impressive body control, the ability to bend around the edge and contort his body to adjust to what he wants to do.
Pullard appears to have the frame to continue adding weight without hurting his athleticism. While he may want to avoid getting too big which could hurt his fluidity and flexibility, he does look like he could add a few pounds of muscle and be a better version of the player that was impressive as a junior. If he can get up to around 240lbs by the time of the NFL Draft, it could make a big difference in how he is viewed as a prospect.
Pullard’s tackling produces results, but he could get better. He does a good job of wrapping up and generally avoids getting too high, usually ending up tackling the ball carrier’s core or wrapping his arms around their thighs. Pullard will go for the shoulder bomb when a teammate has an opponent corralled, but this is not a huge issue.
The larger issue for Pullard is what he does from the waist down as a tackler. He is inconsistent with how often he sinks his hips. When he does, he can generate a good amount of power but still leaves potential power on the table. There are too many issues where Pullard does not break down, will end up running by tacklers and sort of dive sideways as he tries to make the tackle. It also can make it so he is unable to keep his shoulders square and can cause him to drift off target.
- This is about the best tackle Pullard had and everything about this play is great except the fact that he just stops his legs on contact. If he keeps driving his legs, he has an ideal tackle.
The last issue is the most pressing for Pullard. He completely stops his legs on contact. Pullard’s upper body strength and weight allow him to pull down opponents from the side or take down the ball carrier head on with a decent amount of force, but if he continues to drive his legs on contact, he can deliver a significant increase in how much power he brings as well as making it so he does not get pushed backward on the tackle. Pullard will either drive the opponent backward or stone them with minimal push forward.
- Everything about this play is good until it comes to making the tackle. He sinks his hips but then just lets his legs act as dead weight and Ka’Deem Carey makes him look foolish for it.
There are some consistency issues that Pullard should address, but the way he lets his legs act as dead weight is a wasted opportunity and something that can make a big difference in his play. Pullard shows a good amount of strength, but his presence and reputation from opponents will make him someone opponents get tired of taking hits from over the course of a game.
In terms of a pure skill set for an inside linebacker, Pullard can do it all. He is not afraid to do the dirty work in the middle, taking on blocks with flashes of shedding and tackling the ball carrier. Pullard also shows speed, quickness and the ability to get on his keys quickly, getting downhill to attack the run before blockers have a chance to stop him, showing the ability to make impact plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
For the most part, Pullard does a good job with his keys and diagnosing plays, but he can get too far ahead of himself, read the play wrong and take himself out of position either biting on a option type play or over committing one way or the other. Largely a function of experience, these mistakes are part of the learning process and USC is content to have him play aggressive, accepting the occasional mistake because his success rate is high enough to make up for it.
The one issue that Pullard does need to put in effort to improve is when it comes to angles. There are too many examples where Pullard’s angle is wrong, usually giving himself too much credit and allowing opponents to get to the edge. Occasionally, there are some situations where he goes too deep and waits for the ball carrier to come to him.
- Pullard stacks David Yankey, is able to shed, adjust and get involved with tackle on Tyler Gaffney.
- Fantastic job of working his way outside, addressing the block without getting sucked into it and then adjusts to slow up ball carrier as teammates help with tackle. The tackle itself was iffy, not sinking his hips and too high but the play gets made in spite of it.
One of the areas that makes Pullard attractive as a prospect and frustrating as an opponent is that he keeps opposing blockers guessing. He is not afraid to get in there and try to eliminate a running lane, potentially able to shed and make a tackle, but he is also able to attack opponents dead on before changing his angle slightly and slipping the block. His athleticism and his flexibility allow him to get past opponents and continue working to the ball carrier.
- Pullard makes Kevin Danser look silly here as he simply slips past him. He does not need to make the play but he is in great position if his teammate does not make the stop.
Occasionally, Pullard will get cute with how he does it and take himself out of the play, but short of being in a phone booth, he makes it extremely difficult for opponents to be sure what he is going to do on a given play, putting the pressure on them to adjust to him, giving him an advantage.
In terms of range, Pullard can cover a lot of ground but it is largely because he is right with his read. He gets a good jump on the play and is able to get a head start working his way to the sideline, which is exactly what he is supposed to do. His overall range is probably a little overstated, but it is not a huge issue.
- Pullard reads the play and attacks quickly, able to get into a lane and get to the ball carrier before linemen are able to adjust and makes a tackle for loss.
- A poor angle here too far outside combined with not sinking his hips opens up an inside running lane and allows for a big play.
Pullard showcases a ton of ability and with additional strength and experience, he should only better with how he is able to take on shed blocks. The more he is able to take them squarely as opposed to turning his shoulder, the better he should get. Angles need to improve, but the good far outweighs the bad and he makes a ton of impact plays for the Trojans defense.
Pullard is able to contribute in coverage, but he is far more comfortable and effective in man coverage. When he knows exactly what he is going to do on a play, he gets a great jump, has the quickness and speed to stay in coverage and is able to operate effectively, taking the opponent out of the play. He is not someone who is really suited to play against wide receivers in man coverage in the slot, but he does a great job in dealing with running backs out of the backfield and his size may belie the fact that he can help against tight ends.
Pullard’s lack of size and particularly height could make teams feel comfortable with their ability to throw to a tight end against him, but his strength and athleticism make it so he is not afraid to play physically against them and while he may give up some catches, he tackles the receiver quickly and is someone that can knock the ball out of their grasp.
- Pullard has his bases, prepared to hit the opponent if they attack the middle, but the second he reads that outside move, he breaks on the ball effectively and is able to break up the pass, tackling the receiver as soon as he touches it.
Zone coverage is a little more inconsistent. Pullard has situations where he does a great job and shows good range, including a surprising ability to help with plays that go deep. The issue is there are situations where he gets caught in no man’s land, does not feel the play and is too close to a teammate or is not actually helping anything as he stares at the quarterback or he looks to be generating activity for the sake of activity rather than a real purpose.
Pullard can read the quarterbacks eyes and can try to get underneath passing lanes and will attempt to jump and knock down passes. He never seems truly comfortable taking his eyes off of what the quarterback is doing and receivers are able to take advantage and find space away from him. There are too many situations where he is jockeying back and forth for no real benefit in an attempt to keep his feet moving.
The notable exception is the way he floats to the outside and covers running backs. In this area, he is just a natural and does a fantastic job. On plays where he is not going to get there in time, he can make the tackle and eliminate yards after catch. Pullard can also do a pretty good of sniffing out screens.
- Pullard does an excellent job getting to his drop quickly and then flows to the sideline, cutting underneath to take away a threat, forcing Taylor Kelly to throw it away deep.
Pullard should improve with experience as he gets more comfortable. Nevertheless, Pullard has been able to make plays in coverage both in terms of pass deflections and creating turnovers. The more he is able to add to this aspect of the game, the more complete of a threat he is.
Pass Rush & Blitz Ability
Pass rushing is an area where Pullard shows an intriguing amount of ability, but has to be more decisive. Pullard does a good job of selling a delayed blitz and can generate speed in a hurry, finding lanes his teammates have created that can allow him to put quick pressure on the quarterback.
- Pullard with a good delayed blitz here. Even though Gaffney is able to pick him up, Pullard makes it more difficult for Kevin Hogan to step into his throw.
The issue for Pullard is he is too cautious at times and never really just goes with full on speed. He always tries to find a clean lane to the quarterback. Certainly, being able to be patient and find a good lane is a worthwhile trait, but when he hesitates and take too long, he ends up trailing the pass rush and ending up not coming anywhere close to making an impact.
- This is an example of an issue that seems to be an overriding issue for Pullard. He does his assignment, he brings effort. By the letter of the law, he is right. A player with more awareness sees that he is never going to make this play and either drops into coverage or cuts off an angle. Pullard gets caught up in trash and has no impact.
Pullard is more decisive when opposing quarterbacks roll out, he is in zone and he goes straight downhill to get pressure. He forces the quarterback to make a decision and potentially a mistake. As a run defender there are times when Pullard makes a clear decision and just decides he needs to hit a gap with all he has. If he can bring that same mentality to being a pass rusher, he may not get to the quarterback, but he may cause the opponent to react to him and create an opening for one of his teammates.
The clips were provided by DraftBreakdown.com