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Photo Credit: BarkBoard - 24/7

FSM Presents: Zo Huddle – The West Coast Sleepers Come Draft Day

 

Franchise Sports Media

 

The Zo Huddle loves two seasons: Football season and draft season. With the 2021 NFL Draft over a month away, the Zo Huddle will unveil the top sleeper prospects out west in his eyes.

 

And I’m going to start in the 559 first and hit the Fresno State trenches for my first potential ‘21 sleeper.

He’s the lone 2021 NFL Draft representative out of 1620 E Bulldog Lane in Fresno. But with his intangibles, he could be a late-round steal and have offensive line coaches sleeping well at night, knowing they have an extra set of nastiness to coach.

Of course, so much is dependent upon how things flow in the era of COVID-19 protocols and not flying out to Indianapolis for the annual scouting combine (canceled due to virus concerns, forcing prospects to work out at their university in front of scouts).

Still, he could look appealing for NFL teams come April. Here is my first West Coast sleeper:

 

SYRUS TUITELE, FRESNO STATE 

Hometown: Chico (Calif.)

High School: Pleasant Valley

Star ranking: Three-star by 247Sports

Height/Weight: 6-foot-6, 300-pounds

No. of seasons playing collegiately: Four

Notable Personal accolades: Second Team All-Mountain West Conference selection in 2020, 26 starts in 35 games of action, won 2018 MWC title and ’18 Las Vegas Bowl with the Bulldogs. Started on a 2018 FS offensive line that only surrendered 12 sacks in 14 games.

 

Before he was a Bulldog…

 

Tuitele was a decorated four-year varsity starter at Aaron Rodgers’ prep alma mater. His team not only won 43 of 47 games while he was there, but Tuitele only lost one game to a CIF Northern Section opponent. He walked away from the Vikings with back-to-back CIF NS championships in ’15 and ’16 and won a state championship in the CIF Division 4-A title game in 2016.

Tuitele did his most damage in the Butte Valley as a defensive tackle, where he was ranked as the state’s No. 61 rated DT by 247. The 2017 prospect held no Power Five offers and was targeted by UNLV, Nevada, and Sacramento State before choosing the Bulldogs and the new head man at the time Jeff Tedford.

 

Field work 

 

Hand usage and placement: From what I saw in my time with 24/7’s Backboard, Tuitele is disciplined enough to insert his hands quickly in between a defender’s number. He is skilled at winning the quickdraw battle with oncoming rushers who are squared up with him. Accompanied by his upper body strength, Tuitele’s massive palms keeps a defender away from him and in control of his block. I noticed defenders often having a hard time swiping out of his hands to break away from his grip, which shows the strength of his appendages and forearms.

 

Pad leverage consistency: Tuitele is a rare mix of being a lineman with solid leverage to also needing improvement in pad level consistency. He often relied on his upper body violence and hand fundamentals over sinking the hips and gaining the edge in leverage over a defender. He is strong at the point of attack and he’s won his share of field matchups when he gains the upper hand in pad leverage. But he was caught slow-footed at times. His last game against New Mexico is an example.

Taking on fast defenders: This is where I believe Tuitele struggled the most. Any edge defender with an explosive get-off often got Tuitele to swing his hips, only to be in bad positioning and having to resort to chasing the defender from behind or extending out his branches. Schools like New Mexico, UNLV, and Nevada plugged a fast, twitchy edge defender over him – resulting in either quarterback Jake Haener having to extend the passing play or take the sack. A clear problem here is that Tuitele doesn’t have the quickest of feet when it comes to taking on more cat-quick DE’s or OLB’s. Developing rapid-fire feet in pass protection is a must moving forward.

Steps and angles: He looks more skilled at his forward movement during run blocking versus being a consistent slide stepper in pass protection. Sometimes when working reactively toward incoming defenders, he was caught in an awkward angle and his defender managed to slip by. However, when squared on a defender especially in oncoming stunts or blitzes, Tuitele gains the advantage. On this 3rd and seven-play against CSU, the incoming DE tried cutting past left shoulder on a designed twist play. Tuitele, however, executes the kick slide technique to position himself to catch the oncoming rusher. Even on the twist, Tuitele is still responsible for the DE and manages to drive him toward the blind side – helping result in the third-down pass conversion.

 

On-field motor: Run blocking is most definitely a strength – and where I have seen Tuitele at his destructive best. He’s not a one-punch-and-done lineman. He wants to bury his defender into the grass, evident in this clip versus Utah State. He’s had plays where he’s pushing more than 260-pounds of defender 10 yards back. He’s shown a knack for being a second-level mover, evident by clearing this running lane against USC in 2019. Another example of his nasty streak is this clip against Utah State. Watch No. 65 closely:

 

Line versatility: Here’s another area that will intrigue NFL teams – Tuitele has lined up in all five offensive line positions before. Although in 2020 he was situated more at right tackle. Scouts are projecting him to move to right guard given his prowess in the running game.

Closest comparison – Andrew Wylie, Kansas City Chiefs: Tuitele has a similar height/weight dynamic to Wylie plus the fact the Kansas City Chief plays angry in the run game yet has had his own struggles in pass protection (notably Super Bowl LV).

 

Current Draft projection: Sixth-Seventh rounder

 

Most suitable options: Bills, 49ers, Panthers, ChiefsBuffalo has got to rate as the best possible option for Tuitele if RT is the spot. The Bills have reserve RT’s Ty Nsekhe and Daryl Williams listed as unrestricted free agents. Tuitele already got used to blocking for three mobile QB’s at Fresno State (Marcus McMaryion, Jorge Reyna, and Haener), so adjusting to Josh Allen shouldn’t be hard there.

The Panthers may have wiggle room for Tuitele if guard is the NFL move. Carolina has four of its guards listed as UFA’s for 2021. The 49ers fit in terms of their run-oriented, physical philosophy. And going to the 49ers prevents Tuitele from making a cross-country move.

Lastly, the defending AFC champions are another potential strong suitor. Reserve tackle Mike Remmers is an unrestrictive free agent and just endured his second nightmarish Super Bowl. The Chiefs may allow the 32-year-old to walk via free agency, which could clear the way for KC to give Tuitele a try. Guard wise, the Chiefs have Kelechi Osemele listed as their lone UFA representative. There may be room for Tuitele in Arrowhead.

 

Overall

 

Tuitele is battle-tested with nearly 40 college games played and taking on blue bloods like USC, UCLA, Arizona State, and Minnesota. He may not be blessed with the brute power of his former teammate Netani Muti, but he is a willing road grader for some team’s run game. The biggest key moving forward will be to fine-tune his ability to catch faster edge defenders. He has the look of someone who could add depth to a team looking to reignite the running attack – or continue its run game prowess.

 

Next time: The Zo Huddle heads to the Silicon Valley to break down Bailey Gaither of San Jose State.

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Lorenzo J. Reyna – Franchise Sports Media

Twitter: @LJ_Reyna

 

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