I will be studying and grading the offensive line for Bleacher Report’s coverage of the 2021 NFL Draft. You can read our first big board and my early position rankings here.
This week we will take an in-depth look at Virginia Tech LT Christian Darrisaw and USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, two of the most promising prospects in the 2021 class. I wound up being high on both of them, but especially Vera-Tucker.
Darrisaw has been starting since his freshman year after spending a year at Fork Union Military Academy in order to become academically eligible, finishing his career with 34 starts at left tackle. He was also overlooked coming out of high school with just one FBS offer from Virginia Tech, which seems hard to believe considering how obviously talented he is on tape.
Vera-Tucker is less experienced with just 20 career starts (13 at left guard, seven at left tackle) but is polished from a technique perspective, with all of the physical traits needed to excel right away at multiple positions. I liked him more as a guard, but he has the ability to play tackle in a pinch and had a very impressive 2020 season at that spot.
Virginia Tech LT Christian Darrisaw - 6’5” 315 pounds - Junior - 22 years old Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season
Tapes viewed: 2020 - Duke, UNC, Liberty, Miami, Boston College
Best matchups: 2020 vs. Miami DE Quincy Roche
Top traits: Initial quickness, agility, power, grip strength, backside cut-offs
Biggest concerns: Effort, playing down to competition, set points, over reliance on upper body in the run game
Darrisaw had more than a half dozen extremely impressive plays in the run game against UNC in Week 3 that showed just how powerful and overwhelming he can be at the point of attack. These first four plays show him kicking out a couple different defenders on angle-drive/kick out blocks on zone runs with impressive hand placement and power to create movement at the point of attack.
You can see how easy Darrisaw is moving linebacker #12 Tomon Fox (255 pounds) off of the ball in three of the four clips above while doing the same in the second clip against a defensive tackle.
These next four plays are from the backside of zone runs each showing different nuances that speak to how comfortable and effective Darrisaw is on core NFL concepts like inside and outside zone. You’ll notice more of his high level power, grip strength, initial quickness and use of hands to create leverage on defenders. North Carolina linebacker and future NFL player #21 Chazz Surratt had a long day vs. the run against Darrisaw.
The backside of zone runs is an area Darrisaw consistently shined on tape and against Miami had four plays that jumped out, cutting off 3, 2, and 2i techniques using impressive initial quickness, aiming points, and hand placement. To work his hips around players to scoop and cut them off as often as he did was extremely impressive and speaks on how well he can execute zone concepts as a run blocker.
These next four plays demonstrate more of what Darrisaw can do in space on his climb to the second and third levels of a defense, one against Miami, one against Boston College, and two against Duke. You’ll notice more of the same traits expressed in different concepts, but also notable mental processing to decipher multiple threats quickly to properly identify the most dangerous man, plus his movement skills to track down smaller targets.
The concerns with Darrisaw as a run blocker are rooted in inconsistent aiming points that result in some whiffs, specifically on kick out blocks and to a lesser extent on the second level. Part of that is being off with his aiming points but the more worrying part is that there are reps throughout his tape where he looks to be going through the motions. You can see a couple of those reps here against UNC.
The first play is the last play of the first half and Darrisaw takes too wide of an angle out of his stance, dips his head, and gets beat clean inside. This was a departure in the quality of technique from the rest of the game on these types of blocks. The second rep he’s blocking down and leans into contact without much intent, getting beat easily by an inferior player. Not glaringly bad reps necessarily, but similar types of plays were reoccurring throughout his film.
And again against Miami, Darrisaw appearing disinterested and lackadaisical on multiple run plays.
The first one is on a hinge block on the backside of power, leaning into contact and letting Quincy Roche win inside way too easily without much of an effort to slow him down. The second looks to be just poor effort on the backside of a zone run.
Along with spurts of poor effort Darrisaw played down to competition at times, none more glaring than his Week 7 matchup against Liberty. In this game Darrisaw was sloppy with his hand placement and pad level, getting stood up, put on his heels, and was bear hugging players much smaller and inferior talent-wise. #11 Durrell Johnson and #10 TreShaun Clark are the pair of 235 pound DEs below and #44 Austin Lewis (6’6” 270 pounds) is the best player of the group and was the one who drove him back and reset the line of scrimmage at the :13 mark.
Darrisaw is explosive out of his stance with smooth footwork to get to his spot and has plenty of agility to adjust to counter moves. He has heavy hands to stun and knock back rushers when he wants to be aggressive plus processes late additions to the rush and line games quickly.
The latter point about Darrisaw’s mental processing to decipher and work off of multiple threats in pass protection is on display in these two clips below.
This next series of plays shows how well Darrisaw can bend at his hips to match the leverage of a defender with the patience and control to maintain an inside-out relationship against a stutter double-swipe move from Roche. Darrisaw also keeps his head out of the block with his eyes up to better locate and widen his target up the arc. The second clip Darrisaw overset Roche and the wide angle shows how he uses his inside hand to stick Roche in the chest to recover.
Darrisaw has the ability to play on an island as a tackle with the athletic ability, agility, play strength, and confidence to trust his technique in space plus execute inside a zone running game at a high level. His skill-set lends itself to translating well into a balanced run scheme that incorporates gap and man blocking concepts along with zone.
Darrisaw has first round tools and a solid skill-set, but the blemishes are hard to ignore and will cause some teams to wonder if his concentration and focus are going to change as a pro. For these reasons and the other concerns highlighted, I have him ranked as my OT4 in the class.
Best fit: Chargers, Vikings, Washington, Bears, Jaguars
Five Plays: These are 4 additional reps from Darrisaw’s tape that I think tell the story of what he can do as a pro player.
USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker - 6’4” 315 pounds - RS Junior - 22 years old Week 1 of the 2021 NFL season
Tapes viewed: 2019 - Washington. 2020 - Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, Oregon
Best matchup: 2020 Week 3 vs. Mika Tafua
Top traits: Weight distribution, use of hands, footwork, power, competitive toughness, athletic ability
Biggest concerns: Range at tackle, snap timing, pad level on angle-drive blocks
2019 Week 5 vs. Washington: Pass protection - Vera-Tucker had some trouble in this game when sliding to his right and dealing with both Sam Taimani (6’2” 321) and Levi Onwuzurike (6’3” 295). Against Taimani there was a rep where he was put on skates after Taimani used a hump move that Vera-Tucker couldn’t sit down and anchor on, exposing too high of pad level. The rep against Onwuzurike he was late out of his stance and got beat outside through the ‘B’ gap when Onwuzurike used a spin move. Aside from these two reps Vera-Tucker showed the ability to reset his hands and anchor a couple times, playing with a strong base and very good body control.
Vera-Tucker was tremendous as a run blocker, especially in the zone concepts USC was running, both when covered and uncovered. Notice the temperance and angles he takes on the move to locate and track smaller targets, plus the body control and balance to line them up. The last clip is a notable scoop block on Taimani who is in a shade over the center, showing excellent initial quickness, aiming points, & use of hands to work his hips around and cut him off.
2020 Week 1 vs. Arizona State: Run blocking - Vera-Tucker had a few bad reps we’ll touch on due to his aiming points and angles being off at his first game at tackle, but largely showed excellent footwork with loose hips to unlock & explode into contact, precise hand placement, and outstanding competitive toughness to consistently finish every block throughout the game.
You can see some of the positives on these five reps. For context, keep in mind that number 96 is RS freshman Anthonie Cooper (6’2” 270) and number 41 is Junior Tyler Johnson (6’4” 285). So not small DL, but an inexperienced one in Cooper.
These next two reps speak to the concerns mentioned in the opening of Vera-Tucker’s evaluation, specifically being too high at the point of attack without bringing his feet and hips into the block. Keep in mind in the second clip the defensive end Vera-Tucker falls off of late in the rep is Darien Butler who is 6’0” 235 pounds.
Vera-Tucker showed off good initial explosiveness out of his stance, the ability to stay square in his set and maintain an inside-out relationship on variously aligned pass rushers, with excellent strike timing and placement to create leverage. He also showed the ability to power step and cut off inside moves and transition into his anchor with impressive mobility in his lower half. It should be noted again that the competition level in this game was below average, but Vera-Tucker handled business and showed off important critical factor traits nonetheless.
2020 Pac-12 Championship vs. Oregon: Pass protection - Against easily the best competition he faced during the season, Vera-Tucker was up and down with some excellent reps against sophomore DT #97 Brandon Dorlus contrasted with some glaring losses against sophomore DE #5 Kayvon Thibodeaux and one against Dorlus. It should be noted that Vera-Tucker was reportedly nursing a hamstring injury and wouldn’t have played in the bowl game had USC not opted out, which is important context to at least consider when evaluating this tape.
First, the positive reps against Dorlus broken down in detail showing some of Vera-Tucker’s best traits and skills.
Vera-Tucker was beat clean once by Dorlus after biting hard on an inside-out stutter, creating a short corner then getting his outside hand swiped for a QB hit. He also had another rep where he took an extra hop step back that created a soft inside shoulder and gave up a sack, although it wasn’t as bad of a loss as the QB hit because Oregon’s QB drifted into him and was at least partly responsible for the sack.
Where Vera-Tucker really struggled was facing off against Thibodeaux, who in limited viewing is clearly a future first round pick with the size/athletic ability combination and rare get-off reminiscent of Jevon Kearse.
That exposed Vera-Tucker’s inconsistent snap timing but also his lack of range, revealing an ‘upkick’ out of his stance that forced him to turn and essentially run to protect the edge rather than driving, kicking, and staying square to the line of scrimmage. It’s important to point out Vera-Tucker is on an island in both of these reps which is something that can be schemed around to provide some form of help and oftentimes is at the next level for the vast majority of tackles.
Vera-Tucker can also improve his snap timing if he were to stay at tackle as a pro which would help mitigate facing rushers in wide-9 techniques with elite get-offs, but based on my viewings of the player it is a cleaner fit for him inside at guard and somewhere where his projection requires less caveats.
Best fit: Giants, 49ers, Chargers, Vikings, Dolphins, Jets
Five Plays: These are 5 additional reps from Vera-Tucker’s tape that I think tell the story of what he can do as a pro player.
I currently have Vera-Tucker as a top three linemen in this class with about 30 players studied and graded, with a projection as an instant impact starter at guard. Darrisaw I have as my fourth rated tackle and a late first round grade due to the outlined concerns in here about playing down to competition and getting sloppy with his technique, but think there are obvious traits there still warranting considering in round one if the mental makeup of the player checks out.
Stay tuned for next week as we cover Tennessee OL Trey Smith and Michigan RT Jalen Mayfield.