USC will get back a central figure on the defensive line for 2020 with the return of defensive tackle Jay Tufele, who will not declare for the NFL Draft.
USC’s future defensive coordinator can be assured that his defensive line will be at full strength in 2020. On Thursday night, Jay Tufele announced he is returning for his redshirt junior season.
The redshirt junior tweeted his decision to remain at USC saying, “I see that the future has exponential room for groth. There are still more skills I wish to hone, and personal goals I wish to accomplish before I know I am fully mature on and off the field to leave.
“For 2020 I will be returning to USC to fight on for the cardinal and gold.”
After sitting out his freshman year, Tufele cemented himself in the middle of USC’s defensive line as a block-eating run-stopper, appearing in 11 games in 2018 and all 13 games in 2019.
As a defensive tackle, Tufele doesn’t accumulate traditional defensive statistics like an edge rusher would. However, he plays a key role in controlling the line of scrimmage in order to allow the players around him to make plays.
Still, from 2018 to 2019 Tufele increased his tackles for a loss total from 4.5 to 5.5 and his sack total from 3.0 to 3.5. His improvement on the field was recognized by the coaches of the Pac-12, as he moved from second-team all-conference last season to first-team All-Pac-12 this season as a result.
Yet, the former 39th overall prospect in the 2017 recruiting class returns to school with more to prove as an NFL prospect. While Tufele plays well within the Trojans’ defensive scheme, he doesn’t create a ton of havoc for opposing offenses.
The next step for Tufele is to dominate the trenches. He can do a better job getting an upfield push against opposing guards and centers in order to delay rushing plays or take away the quarterback’s ability to step up. Limiting opposing rushing attacks should be priority number one for the Salt Lake City native because that will create pass-rushing opportunities for the defensive ends (Drake Jackson specifically) in longer yardage situations.
If Tufele continues to improve, there is no reason to believe that he wouldn’t follow in Austin Jackson’s footsteps and become a potential first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft due to his natural ability and frame.
On a macro level, a scheme change for USC is a welcome sign after the defensive line did little to impact opposing offenses over the last two seasons. The Trojans were expected to struggle in the secondary this season due to youth, yet it was actually the front seven that led to USC being the 59th best defense in the nation according to SP+.
Ultimately, Tufele’s return could lead to a major turnaround on the defensive line as he, Marlon Tuipulotu, and Drake Jackson develop together.
Nor was Tufele’s announcement the only one for the Trojans on Thursday. Wide receiver Tyler Vaughns also confirmed his decision to return for his redshirt senior season.