Stephon Tuitt | 6'5, 303 pounds | Defensive end/tackle | Notre Dame | Junior
2012 Stats: 47 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, three forced fumbles
Manti Te'o got all the headlines for Notre Dame's defense last season. He was the face of the football program, and when the Irish came crashing down to earth, Te'o soon followed.
But the real strength of Notre Dame's defense was on the defensive line. Stephen Tuitt and Louis Nix both had breakout seasons for the Irish and could be end up as high draft picks when they decide to make the jump to the NFL.
Tuitt led the team with 12 sacks and emerged as a leader for the team. His energy and production fueled the rest of the defense.
Heading into 2013, Tuitt hopes to build on his sophomore season while fixing some of his flaws to prove he can make an impact in the NFL.
What he does well
Tuitt's best trait is his versatility. He lines up both at defensive tackle and defensive end for Notre Dame and plays both positions well. In the NFL, his skill set will fit the 3-technique and 5-technique roles. Tuitt is 6-feet-6-inches tall and just a hair over 300 pounds. He has the strength to hold the point of attack in the running game and the quickness to get inside penetration.
Tuitt understands how to use leverage in his game and manages to disengage with blockers in the running game to make plays in the backfield. That's where he wins most often. His ability to use his hands to beat blocks as a pass rusher and in the running game.
Athleticism flashed in Tuitt's game as a sophomore. He shows consistent effort and has the speed to chase down ball carriers. Along with how comfortably he holds his weight, Tuitt demonstrated adequate suddenness in his game.
What he needs to improve on
A sports hernia injury will loom large for Tuitt during his junior season. He had surgery to repair the issue over the offseason, but his recovery will be key to his draft standing this season. Will he maintain the same leverage in his game? Will he be as dangerous a pass rusher? Tuitt will have to answer those questions and more in 2013.
While his injury will be a focus, Tuitt could also improve his anticipation of the snap and clean up some of the hesitancy he showed in his game as a sophomore. His athleticism is there, but Tuitt could show quality get off more consistently than he did a year ago. Once in the backfield, Tuitt would let ball carriers escape too often as well.
The jury is still out on Tuitt. The physical tools are all there and he has the production to match. But how will he recover from his injury and how will it affect his game? If he continues to build off the monster season he had in 2012, Tuitt has the making of a cornerstone defensive player that will come off the board early. If he takes a step back, Tuitt may wind up slipping down the board a bit.
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