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NFL Draft Profile: USC’s Jay Tufele could be the next mid-round steal for Bengals

The Cincinnati Bengals have been searching for a lot of interior defensive line help this offseason. One West Coast option could be a long term answer.

Since he joined Zac Taylor’s staff back in the spring of 2019, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has been looking to get more versatile along the defensive line. His scheme mixes looks, thus needing players who can generate pressure from all spots up front, while also aiding in run defense.

The past two seasons have seen some major additions on the interior of the defensive line. D.J. Reader, Mike Daniels (twice) and Larry Ogunjobi have all inked contracts, while the team also pursued Sheldon Rankins during 2021 free agency.

While they let loose an eventual Hall of Fame guy in Geno Atkins, the team is now in need of a long-term answer up front, as many of their interior linemen are on short-term deals. USC’s Jay Tufele could provide an answer in a “sweet spot” of the team, in terms of where they traditionally like to draft players from this position group.

Jay Tufele

School: USC

Position: Interior Defensive Line

Height: 6’2”

Weight: 305 pounds

Projected Round: Third/Fourth Draft Profile

Tufele brings a lot of traits NFL teams covet out of an interior defensive lineman: strength, speed and explosiveness. Kent Lee Platte provided an interesting snapshot of Tufele’s Relative Athletic Score, which points to some positives and concerns.

Interestingly enough, Tufele was previously noted as a 6’3”, 315-pound lineman while with the Trojans, and there are pros and cons to the weight disparity. On the plus side, this weight loss (unless inaccurately noted by USC beforehand) may be a strategy by Tufele to make himself more scheme-diverse; however, his opting out of the 2020 season because of Covid-19 could raise questions on why he’s now listed as 10 pounds lighter.

Draft season, am I right?

His RAS notes a lack of agility, but there are plays on film that say otherwise. Games against Utah and Oregon (he was responsible for Penei Sewell’s only sack given up in college) show some high-end athleticism, with the ability to move well laterally.

When you look at the tape and read other draftnik takes on Tufele, it’s easy to see inconsistency, though. He plays with great effort and strength, which can end up creating big plays for a defense (see fumble return touchdown versus Utah in 2018).

He can also be a spark plug for a unit with his tenacity and ability to blow up a play at a moment’s notice. Tufele had 6.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss and 64 total tackles in two full seasons of play at USC.

However, there also appears to be a bit of a “reckless abandon” facet to his repertoire, where he loses sight of technique and ends up having minimal impact on particular plays. A lot of talented college players face a similar obstacle when transitioning to the pros and it’s up to the position coaches to teach the nuances for the next level.

Tufele has some “boom or bust” aura about him, but the former seems to be attainable for a team that invests in him. Cincinnati has used picks in Rounds 2-4 many times in recent history on interior defensive linemen (Atkins, Domata Peko, Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, Renell Wren, Devon Still and others), with many of them becoming solid players for the club.

Fit with the Bengals

Tufele is a three-technique by trade, but can be shifted around a bit along a defensive line. That versatility should make Tufele a coveted player late on Day Two or early on Day Three of the NFL Draft.

With a smidge better testing, Tufele could have wiped out many concerns from clubs about his lack of 2020 film. However, if he does land specifically in Cincinnati, there is both great opportunity and competition.

Josh Tupou is returning to the team after also stepping back from football in 2020, while Renell Wren is hoping for his chance at redemption after a season-ending injury. With Ogunjobi, Reader and Daniels in the fold for the interior, Tufele would fight for playing time.

Still, as we have been seeing with this Bengals team over the past few seasons, depth is key. And, when the team lost Reader, Daniels and others to injury along the defensive line last year, opposing offenses largely had their way against the Bengals.

Overall, Tufele should be a solid addition to the Bengals’ defense and a fun piece of clay to mold for new defensive line coach Marion Hobby. It may take a year for him to truly blossom and take a big role, but he could become the next great Bengals’ defensive lineman with patience and the correct coaching.