2014 NFL Draft Prospects: DE Stephon Tuitt is one of the most versatile players available

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame's hulking defensive end has some technique to work on, but his raw product as a multi-position defensive lineman is impressive enough to think the Steelers will give him a hard look in this draft evaluation process.

Posted Jan. 3

No Huddle offenses armed with powerful quarterbacks and versatile tight ends is all the rage today. We'll see loads of it in the upcoming NFL playoffs. Teams can counter that defensively with players who can play multiple positions on all three downs, giving teams the ability to stay on the field with sub package personnel but not lose the ability to defend the run or rush the passer.

If Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt played at the same position for an entire game, it'd seem like the first time. He possesses the quickness to play on the edge yet the size and power to attack from the interior, making him one of the most versatile down linemen available in this draft.

He's a first round pick, and could be a target of the Steelers, selecting 15th overall.

Tuitt stands out as a prospect because of his size, power and agility, but he's a refined rusher for his age and experience. In Notre Dame's 14-10 win over USC, Tuitt displayed all of those things, taking part in a Fighting Irish defense that held the Trojans to 2-for-13 on third downs. While USC was successful overall on the ground, it was not through a decision to run at Tuitt.

The Trojans ran outside zone plays multiple times in this game, but Tuitt's explosion and strength made it difficult to stop him 1-on-1. On this play, Tuitt recognizes the zone run attempt, pops into the tackle and keeps his feet square with the line of scrimmage. He has his eyes on the ball carrier, and uses the tackle as a wall to prevent the running back from getting outside, while keeping his technique inside to discourage any cutback attempt.

Tuitt powers his way into the backfield, keeping the tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and presses him until he's close enough to shed the blocker and make the play.

He isn't capable of doing that just against one blocker either.

Again, Tuitt recognizes the zone run, and this time, the Trojans look to get a double team on him with the tackle and the guard. Watch Tuitt's feet, as he does all he can to prevent the tackle from getting across his right side. The tackle initially beats him to the spot, but Tuitt is too strong and too quick to keep him shielded to the outside. The lineman squares up to take him head-on and Tuitt goes right around him, locates the ball carrier and takes him down for about a one yard gain.

Tuitt moves inside on a passing down, and the Trojans look to body him up, negating the quickness advantage he has over the left tackle.

Quickness, as it turns out, can't be negated if a blocker can't get to the rusher. Tuitt slaps away the guard's attempt to reach him and blows right by, giving him a runway to accelerate into the quarterback.

Certainly, these are hand-selected clips, with others not appearing showing a tendency to stand up a bit on the snap, wasting some explosion and leverage, but these are correctable issues, and nothing uncommon for developing 5-technique ends. He's said to be a workout warrior (he bales hay for local farmers just for the workout), and it's a wonder if that bulk isn't also creating something of a lack of flexibility in his back and legs in particular.

The Steelers saw a dramatic increase in production from third-year defensive end Cameron Heyward largely because they had their defensive ends attack the pocket more in 2013 than they had in the past. Heyward will enter the 2014 season as the most productive player on the defensive line. Even as Tuitt seasons as a player, the idea of he and Heyward along that line - arguably the most athletic pair of 5-technique ends the team has had since they employed that position - is tantalizing.

What's better is Tuitt has the strength to play inside, the size to play over the center and attack both the A and B gap and the quickness to attack off the edge. He's one of the most versatile, high-ceiling players available in this draft, and if he makes it to 15, he'll be really hard for the Steelers to ignore.

Note: as of Jan. 3, Tuitt has not yet declared for the 2014 NFL Draft.

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