By: Brentley Weissman
For most of college football, we are nearly halfway through the season. But with this unprecedented year, some conferences have yet to begin their schedules. As is the case for the Pac-12, who is set to kick off their 2020 season this Saturday. The Conference of Champions might be late to the party, but sometimes being fashionably late is OK. The conference has loads of NFL talent and NFL evaluators will be excited that they will have the opportunity to see these players take the field this fall.
One player that NFL front office personnel will have a strong eye on is USC’s redshirt junior offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. Vera-Tucker, a 2019 All Pac-12 member, initially opted out of the 2020 season when there was a lot of uncertainty around what the season would look like. Luckily for Trojans fans, as well as NFL scouts, Vera-Tucker decided to opt back in and suit up for the Trojans this fall.
This will be a big season for Vera-Tucker, who after starting every game at left guard in 2019, is slated to start at left tackle this fall as USC looks to replace 2020 first-round pick Austin Jackson. Already viewed as a potential NFL draft pick, Vera-Tucker has a huge opportunity to show he can play on the outside and prove his versatility to NFL teams. Ahead of USC’s season opener against Arizona State, I wanted to spend some time watching a few of Vera-Tucker’s games from 2019 and get a sense of what he is as a pro prospect as well as my thoughts on how the transition to tackle from guard will go.
Alijah Vera-Tucker has excellent size for an interior offensive lineman with above average overall athletic ability. In the run game, he displays excellent quicks off the snap, and he looks to cover up defensive lineman at the point. Vera-Tucker is very good with his hands. A true technician, he is able to get inside the frame of defensive linemen and shows the ability to control and steer. He is dominant when working with an angle and he’ll drive defensive linemen across the formation on down blocks. He shows excellent timing and awareness on combo blocks and knows when to peel off and move to the second level. He is an above average athlete who falls off blocks laterally. He takes good angles to the second level, but struggles hitting moving targets due to lack of agility. There are times where you wish you would see him look to finish and assert his will on opposing defenders.
In the passing game, he displays a very good anchor and is always in good position with his hands. He flashes a good initial punch, but isn’t overly strong—he just shocks the defender. Vera-Tucker has really strong hands and defenders really struggle to disengage once he makes contact. His footwork is good, but there are times he will give up an edge to faster rushers inside. Overall, Vera-Tucker may not be the strongest, or the most athletic, but he is smart, a technician, and has more than enough physical tools to be a day one interior starter at the next level.
After watching his film, I came away really impressed. In my opinion, based off the tape I watched, he should expect to hear his name come off the board no later than early in the third round with room to hear it called as early as the middle of the second round. However, this opinion was just based on his 2019 film at guard. If Vera-Tucker can prove he can handle the move to left tackle, then he can really move up the big boards.
Personally, I’m not sure he will excel on the outside like he did in the interior. Playing offensive tackle requires you to be more on an island and your edges are really exposed as compared to playing in a phone booth at guard. Vera-Tucker’s lateral agility isn’t one of his strengths, so his ability to be able to beat speed rushers to the spot will be tough. His lack of length is also a factor here, although that is something he can overcome with his technique.
I believe Vera-Tucker’s technique, toughness, and experience will suit him well as he makes the move outside, and I would love to be proven wrong about his raw athleticism as I am always pulling for Pac-12 players.