USC defensive end J.R. Tavai is headed to the 2015 NFL Combine as an underrated playmaker on defense.
What did he do at USC?
Tavai battled the injury bug for much of his career at USC, limiting his overall production. In fact, he missed multiple games every season because of injury.
As a freshman his role as a back up defensive tackle was limited. He shifted to defensive end as a sophomore, starting three times early in the season.
In 2013, Tavai stepped into a bigger role because of injuries to Morgan Breslin. Now playing outside linebacker in Clancy Pendergast’s new system, he logged 56 tackles, with 8 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks, earning an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.
In his final season as a Trojan he proved his value to USC by leading the team in sacks. He also forced three fumbles, including the game winner against Stanford. Once again he missed time late in the season, but still earned another honorable mention on the all-conference team.
What’s his current draft stock?
Across the board Tavai is projected as a late round pick, perhaps sliding into the sixth round.
His energy, effort and enthusiasm from snap to snap are characteristics defensive coordinators will welcome at any stage of the draft. — Lance Zierlein, NFL.com
Scouts like his power and toughness, but the injury issues cannot be overlooked. So much time missed due to injury is a double whammy — Tavai’s durability is unreliable at best and he lacks the regular starting experience of his peers.
Consistent aggressiveness when he has played along with a good motor could make him worth the risk as late pick to certain teams as a special teamer at least.
When the LA Times talked to scouts to evaluate USC and UCLA prospects before the rivalry game last year, one described Tavai as an overachiever. That immeasurable quality is one which could ultimately get him drafted.
What can he improve?
Coming into the combine healthy after taking part in the the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl is a start for Tavai. Unfortunately, he is considered a tweaner and there is only so much he could to do make up for his size.
Position drills are the key for Tavai. While he may not be able to outmatch the more athletically-gifted players at the Combine, he could improve his stock with strong showings in pass rushing drills.
A better-than-expected performance in the pass drop drill would go a long way as well, as his ability to be a true outside linebacker who can drop into pass coverage has been questioned.
More NFL Combine previews:
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