General George S. Patton once said, "Nobody ever defended anything successfully; there is only attack and attack and attack some more."
Football is a game of attacks.
If you want to win, then you need to be better at attacking their offense than they are at attacking your defense. In Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's system, this starts with the front four of the defensive line.
You can never have too many pass rushers. Last week Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said that he expects newly-acquired defensive end Charles Omenihu to kick inside to defensive tackle on third downs and rush next to Chris Jones— this leaves an open spot for a third-down pass rush specialist who can also possibly rotate in on early downs as well.
One intriguing prospect who fits the bill is USC defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu.
Tuipulotu was a three-star recruit and the number 40 defensive lineman in the country coming out of Lawndale High School in Lawndale, California. During his senior year at Lawndale, Tuipulotu was named third-team all-California selection. While many players must add weight and bulk up when they reach college, this was not the case for Tuipulotu. He was listed as 6'4” and 290 lbs. during his senior year of high school. What's even wilder is that at the NFL combine this spring, Tuipulotu weighed in 24 lbs lighter at 266 lbs.
Tuipulotu was a highly sought-after player and drew interest from UCLA, Oregon St., Nebraska, Tennessee, and California, before ultimately deciding to commit to USC— where his older brother Marlon Tuipulotu and his cousin Talanoa Hufanga were playing. Both were selected in the 2021 NFL NFL Draft. The Philadelphia Eagles took the elder Tuipulotu in the sixth round, while the future All-Pro, Hufanga, went in the fifth round to the San Francisco 49ers.
Tuipulotu is not one to live in his family members' shadow — in 2021, Tuipulotu was named a first-team All-Pac-12 Conference player and USC's Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Tuipulotu erupted in 2022, leading the nation in sacks with 13.5 and ranking second in tackles for a loss with 22. This stellar play earned him being named an Associated Press first-team All-American.
Ironically, in his draft write-up, NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein named George Karlaftis as Tuipulotu's NFL Comparison.
The first thing you must know about Tuipulotu is that he is a cerebral player with a well-developed pass-rush plan. He plays with great functional strength and selective patience when the situation demands it. USC deployed him all along the line, and he possesses the size to be kicked inside on passing downs, similar to how Veach said he wants to utilize Omenihu.
Tuipulotu has a great first step and gets off the ball quickly. He does a great job of converting speed to power when he lines up out wide. He has enough bend to get around the edge if he has to, but the name of Tuipulotu's game is his functional strength and shedding blocks — to do this, he utilizes a well-developed inside move and bull rush that moves opposing tackles like they are toddlers. Tuipulotu is not the most outstanding athlete, but he doesn't waste steps in getting to the quarterback, and he has a motor like Tamba Hali.
Besides leading the nation in sacks in 2022, Tuli Tuipulotu is also a plus run defender. pic.twitter.com/jJLXFxvLvQ— Rocky Magaña (@RockyMagana) April 23, 2023
Despite being among the best pass rushers in college football, Tuipulotu might be an even better run defender. He uses his intellect to diagnose the pre-snap play and takes the most direct line possible to the ball carrier. Tuipulotu often beats opposing linemen to their spots on running plays, while other times, he will pause for a beat and wait for a seam to open up— he does an excellent job of making himself small through the hole when need be. Beyond some overall athleticism concerns and the fact that his arms are only 32 1/2 inches long, the one other area of his game that Tuipulotu needs to work on is missed tackles. According to PFF, in 2022, Tuipulotu had a missed tackle percentage of 31.4%.
How he fits with the Chiefs
Arm length aside, Tuipulotu is the prototypical edge rusher that Spanuolo is looking for. A front four of Karlaftis, Omenihu, Jones, and Tuipulotu, rushing the quarterback would wreak havoc on opposing offensive linemen. Somebody in that group will win their rep and get in the backfield consistently.
The bottom line
Tuipulotu is one of my favorite players in this draft. His motor and strength profile as a guy with a high floor, even if his ceiling might be a little lower. At his worst, he is going to be a serviceable starter, at his best he will be selected to multiple pro bowls during his career.