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There’s certainly a lot of NFL Draft buzz surrounding pass-rushing aficionado Jadeveon Clowney, but lesser known is the No. 2-rated defensive end, Stephon Tuitt.
The former Fighting Irish standout earned All-American honors following a sophomore campaign in which he recorded 11 tackles and 11 tackles for loss, both of which were team highs. Despite being slowed down by an injury last season, Tuitt still led Notre Dame in both statistical categories, finishing with 7.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss.
The 6-foot-5 Tuitt has played between 305 and 330 pounds, and his length, power and “surprising quickness” have all grabbed the attention of NFL scouts. Not only can he rush the passer, but is solid defending the run. His versatility as a lineman may come into play during the draft, too. He played end in the 3-4 for the Fighting Irish, but could also fit in as interior lineman — as a 3-technique or 5-technique — in a 4-3 scheme.
Tuitt’s straight-line speed is expected to turn heads at the NFL Combine, but he does have to improve in some areas. He is considered average in terms of body control and his ability to change directions, and at times he plays too tall and, as a result, causes him to lose his balance.
Tuitt is listed as the No. 15 and No. 20 prospect in this year’s class, according to ESPN and CBS Sports, respectively, and the second-best at defensive end behind only Clowney. He has been compared to a younger version of former New England Patriots All-Pro Richard Seymour by Mel Kiper Jr.
Prior to the Pinstripe Bowl, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Tuitt received a second-round grade from an NFL Draft Advisory Board, though numerous mock drafts project him to fall somewhere in the first round or almost immediately in the second.
Tuitt could come off the board as early as No. 17 to the Dallas Cowboys, who will need to address their defensive line with both Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher set to hit free agency. The team is unlikely to be able to ink both the linemen to deals, so replacing one or even both may need to addressed in the draft.
The next possible landing spot could be 21st overall to the Green Bay Packers. Tuitt could immediately improve Green Bay’s pass rush and run defense, which ranked 24th in 2013. B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett are free agents this offseason.
One of the most oft-mentioned destinations for Tuitt is in Kansas City, where the Chiefs’ revamped defense could add another weapon to its elite pass rush. Dontari Poe’s production tailed off in the latter portion of the season, and perhaps Tuitt would be an upgrade in the middle of the team’s 3-4 front.
Finally, should Tuitt slip past the three aforementioned teams he may find a home in New England. He’s been compared to Seymour, who was drafted by Bill Belichick and Co. years ago. The Pats need help up front, and it could begin with adding Tuitt.
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