USC’s Alijah Vera-Tucker ‘raised my stock a lot’ with 2020 season

Had Alijah Vera-Tucker declared for the NFL draft last year, he would have likely been a Day 2 selection with the chance of sneaking into the first round. However, with only one full season starting at left guard in 2019, Vera-Tucker decided to return for his junior season.

This decision couldn’t have been any better.

USC needed Vera-Tucker to play left tackle in its short six-game season, to which he obliged. And in doing so, Vera-Tucker put forth some strong performances that showed, at 6-foot-4 and 315 pounds, he can play both left guard and left tackle. Now, thanks to the extra game film from 2020, Vera-Tucker has a much better chance to be a first-round pick than he did at this time a year ago

“I think it raised my stock a lot,” Vera-Tucker said. “It was a blessing to play at left tackle, especially since I hadn’t played out there for about four years before. It was real good playing out there. It was a little weird at first but at the end of the season I felt more comfortable out there.”

Vera-Tucker explained the differences of playing the inside and on the edge. As an interior player for three seasons, who didn’t become a starter until 2019, Vera-Tucker would match up against bigger bodies with the point of contact occurring quickly.

At the FBS level, Vera-Tucker discovered that playing left tackle was much different in terms of style and technique. A quick understudy, Vera-Tucker caught on to the nuances of the position, which have since caught the eye of many NFL scouts and executives.

“Two different positions,” Vera-Tucker said. “When you’re on the inside of the O-line, guys are a lot heavier and sometimes stronger. And they’re in your face a lot quicker, whether it’s run game or pass (protection). On the edge, I feel like you have to be a lot more patient at left tackle. You have to study guys a little more. Guys sometimes have more tools in their arsenal when it comes to pass rush. It’s two completely different positions. I’m glad I played left tackle because now I feel I can play either one.”

USC coach Clay Helton knew Vera-Tucker had the physical traits to be an upper-tier draft selection long before this past season. Vera-Tucker just didn’t have as much film, nor the chance to show off his versatility as someone who can play both tackle and guard.

“I really thought it was a very wise decision to play this season, these last six games,” Helton said. “He was right in that first round, high second-round category prior to the season. And I really felt (it would help) if he had one more year of starter tape and could really show his athletic ability that we knew he had because we knew him in high school and have been able to work with him. But to be able to show teams he’s as athletic as can be at tackle and can be a premier interior player as well -- to have those two spots of tape, we just thought it would up his value.”

NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah ranked Vera-Tucker his 15th overall prospect and has him slotted to the Arizona Cardinals with the 16th pick in his mock draft. Even for teams who view him primarily as a guard, Jeremiah believes Vera-Tucker has the ability to be a mainstay for many years in the league.

Until recent drafts, teams historically didn’t take interior offensive linemen in the first round. However, the Indianapolis Colts found success with Quenton Nelson as the sixth overall selection in the 2018 NFL draft. The Falcons followed the Colts’ lead and took Chris Lindstrom 14th in 2019.

Jeremiah thinks Vera-Tucker could fit the same mold.

“I think he’s one of the cleaner players in the whole draft,” Jeremiah said. “He played left tackle and played it darned well this year. I think if you wanted to, he could hold up fine out there. But I think he’s got a chance to be a perennial All-Pro as a guard. He plays with instincts and awareness. He’s strong to anchor down. He always is under control. He really did a good job working up to the second level this year. He can bend. Everything you hear about him is that he’s highly intelligent, has great character.

“He’s my 15th player in the draft and when I do my update, he might even move up a little bit. I just think to me if you’re asking who are safe picks that are just going to be day-one starters and fill a role for the next decade, I think this kid has got that type of ability and makeup. I absolutely think he’s worth a pick in the top 15, and I think teams around the NFL really value this kid.”

The Falcons do have an opening at left guard following James Carpenter’s release. However, the Falcons pick fourth overall and, despite the recent trend, will not be inclined to take a guard that high. However, if the Falcons trade back and acquire a pick in the near middle of the first round, perhaps they at least think of the possibility of taking another guard to bolster the offensive line.

If so, Vera-Tucker could be someone to consider because of his traits and position flexibility.

“One thing is I’m very physical on the field, whether it’s at guard or tackle I feel like you see that a lot when you turn on my tape,” Vera-Tucker said. “I try to finish guys every single play. Also, my IQ is very high in this game as well.”