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2017 NFL Draft Prospect Profile: USC DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu adds a run-stopping edge to the Patriots front

In a league where DTs are now increasingly smaller, Tui’kolovatu provides some beef up the middle.

The Patriots typically rely on big defensive tackles that can control blockers in the run game. The Patriots DTs are 315 pounds or heavier, with all three active roster DTs for Super Bowl LI weighing 325+. Teams now are going more towards smaller, more explosive players like Aaron Donald to attack the interior. Even the Patriots do some of that as Trey Flowers will kick inside a lot, more as a pass rushing match-up against guards and centers. When it comes to strictly DTs, the Patriots like to have big lineman that can control gaps.

One of the more underrated DTs in the draft class is USC’s Stevie Tu’ikolovatu. He has NFL bloodlines with his uncle, Sione Pouha, playing for the Jets as a nose tackle. According to Pro Football focus, Tu’ikolovatu ranked 4th amongst FBS DTs with a run stop % of 12.6. Initially he started his college career at Utah, but transferred to USC to get more playing time. Tu’ikolovatu comes in at a Wilforkian stature of 6’1” 350, although in the NFL he needs to improve his body to maximize his potential.

Tu’ikolovatu has a really good first punch that keeps centers off of him in the run game. He is immovable by double teams and frees up space for linebackers to make plays behind him. He doesn’t add a lot of pass rushing value, so his ceiling may be lower than the Patriots’ two practice squad DTs. Being a one-trick pony will hurt his value in the draft, probably relegating him to Day 3 status. His ability to impact a running game in the middle will entice teams to take a chance on him and see if he can help their run defense on the inside.

I couldn’t find any useful cut-ups on Draft Breakdown, so I had to resort to using a McCaffrey cut up video for this one. Tu’ikolovatu is #96 for USC if you can find him.

vs. Stanford 2016

Patriots Fit: Tu’ikolovatu would be a rotational run stopper on the Patriots defense. His inability to make much of a difference as a pass rusher might have him come off the field in passing situations in lieu of Flowers. His ability to jam up rushing lanes perfectly aligns with the Patriots 2-gap style defense and allows for the linebackers to flow freely to the run. He probably starts 3rd/4th in the defensive tackle rotation, depending on if Alan Branch returns in 2017. The Patriots should give him a shot in the 5th round of the draft, although their only projected pick of that round is 185th overall.

Pro Comp: Kyle Love. Tu’ikolovatu is a classic nose guard in a 3-4 defense, although base defenses are being more obsolete as teams are turning to more of a passing style approach. Like Love, Tu’ikolovatu would be a rotational tackle up the middle to give Malcom Brown and Vince Valentine breathers.