Soma Vainuku was a stand out special teams player at USC, but he must show that he can make it as a fullback at the 2016 NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
One of just five fullbacks invited to the 2016 NFL Combine, Soma Vainuku is hoping to continue to build off of his strong Senior Bowl week by showing scouts his usefulness as a special teams player and blocker.
What did he do at USC?
After redshirting in 2011, Vainuku started as a freshman in 2012, though his first season playing for USC was more remembered for his struggles with catching the football like past Trojans at his position. However, even then he emerged as a vital special teams contributor.
In 2013 Vainuku was named to the All-Pac-12 first team on special teams after blocking three punts, including one which went for a touchdown and another for a safety. Though his contributions on special teams were the highlight, he also added more of a role from the fullback position, catching nine passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. Unsurprisingly he was also named USC’s Special Teams Player of the Year.
He repeated that feat again in 2015 after a steady junior season in 2014. As a senior he was honored on the All-Pac-12 second team as a special teams representative.
Under Clay Helton’s offense in the second half of 2015, Vainuku was deployed as a blocker in two fullback sets and still served as a key member of USC’s special teams.
In total, Vainuku had 148 yards on 24 carries in his career with three rushing touchdowns. As a receiver he had 17 receptions for 124 yards and one touchdown.
What’s his current draft stock?
The fact that Vainuku was one of so few fullbacks invited to the Combine is a good sign that his chances of being drafted are reasonable, though most evaluations list him as a seventh rounder or undrafted free agent.
Even though his impact during the Senior Bowl was limited, Vainuku received positive reviews for his week of practice leading up to the game.
CBSSports.com lists him as the fifth fullback in the draft while NFL.com and Walter Football place him fourth.
Lance Zierlein credits Vainuku with unexpected athleticism for his size, allowing him to get outside as a lead blocker and change directions well when pursuing on special teams. However, his penchant for being penalized is a problem. There are also questions about his technical deficiencies as a blocker.
What can he improve at the Combine?
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There is no denying Vainuku’s ability as a special teams player, but earning a draft spot as a special teams player alone would be a surprise. That means proving his worth as a fullback will be very important at the Combine.
Vainuku has the ideal size to make it as an NFL fullback, but his production at USC in that position was limited in terms of both blocking and receiving ability.
Showing scouts that he can serve as a reliable lead blocker will be key as he works out in Indianapolis. He displayed improved catching ability during the latter stages of his career though he was little used as a receiving option. Proving competency in that area could help as well.