Draft Analysis: Pick 7.254—Derrek Tuszka
Derrek Tuszka may be from a town in South Dakota with a population of 478. He may have played on a high school squad that fielded only nine kids. He may not have played in the SEC, or the PAC 12, or even the FBS. But make no mistake, Derrek Tuszka is a legitimate prospect.
Despite playing outside the national spotlight at North Dakota St., Tuszka managed to make waves with both his on-field play and his athletic testing. Understanding Tuszka's athletic excellence sheds a lot of light on his in-game performance, so let's start there.
Tuszka flat out crushed the combine. Here are his numbers alongside edge-rushing studs (and former top five picks) Nick Bosa and Khalil Mack.
The takeaway here is that Tuszka is athletically on par with the top players at his position. Each of the above players excels in one area: Bosa has standout upper body strength, Mack has speed and lower body explosiveness, and Tuszka has flat out elite change of direction/agility. His 6.87 three cone time would have tied for second place among cornerbacks this year—it's truly exceptional. (By the way, the cornerback Tuszka tied with is his now-teammate Michael Ojemudia. Does Vic Fangio have a thing for the three-cone, or is that just a fun coincidence?)
Looking at the first three columns of the table, it's clear that Tuszka could stand to put on some weight. Especially at 6' 5", he has the frame to get above 250 lbs. Also—and this is the one number in the above table that is somewhat concerning—he has short arms. At least so far in his career, however, Tuszka's athleticism has more than compensated for this shortcoming. In fact, Tuszka looked like NDSU's version of Julius Peppers, racking up 13.5 sacks, 19.0 TFLs, and first team all-American honors during an extraordinary redshirt senior campaign. The clips below illustrate what happens when an athlete of Bosa's or Mack's caliber takes the field against FCS competition.
It only takes one game to get a sense of who Tuszka is as a player. He was so dominant at NDSU that he was able to put his full skillset on display in pretty much every contest. Let's take his week 1 game against Butler as an example.
Right off the bat he showcased explosive strength in the run game, throwing the tight end aside like a rag doll (right defensive end).
He puts an exclamation mark on the play by absolutely blowing the ballcarrier up.
Tuszka's strength shows up elsewhere in the game as well. Here he is flinging that same TE to the ground on his way to the quarterback. The move could've drawn a flag, but it's nevertheless a good illustration of Tuszka's play strength (right end).
How about lower body strength, you ask? Here he is using leg drive to power through a double team. The running back takes the ball more or less straight upfield so Tuszka isn't making the play, but it's another illustration of his athletic prowess (left end).
That lower body explosiveness translates to burst and acceleration as well. Check out how quickly he gets off the line. He's simply moving at a different speed than the rest of the guys on the field (right end).
To top it off, Tuszka complements his athleticism with good hands. On this play he lands a forceful punch on the LT and uses a nice rip move to gain outside leverage. Having established outside position, he does a good job shedding the lineman by pushing off his outside arm. The sequence is strong, violent, and in control—a really nice rep (right end).
He doesn't get the sack on the above play, but the rush looks a lot like many others where he does get home.
Here's another really similar rip move that results in a sack (right end).
And another...(left end)
He's had a lot of success with the move but could probably stand to add another one or two to his arsenal. If you check out his highlights you'll notice that most of his best plays come from that outside rip. This next clip is one of my favorites of his because it showcases a different skill: an inside spin move (left end).
Tuszka actually has an interesting take on the topic of adding moves to his repertoire and addressed the topic in a pre-draft interview he did with Justin Melo of Music City Miracles, SBNation's Tennessee Titans fan site.
"I’m not gonna lie to you, I probably don’t have as many moves in my arsenal as a lot of guys. It’s intentional though. The way I rush the passer, I’m only gonna have about two or three go-to moves. I like to work off of those. In my opinion, pass rushers that have too many moves tend to play a little slower. They overthink things instead of just reacting to what the tackle gives them. If you could piece together two or three really good moves and learn how to counter off them, you’re gonna be a lot more successful in my opinion. I only have a few moves that I consider my go-to. Everything else is just reacting and playing off the tackle. It allows me to play at a faster speed."
From what I can tell, almost everything Tuszka does when rushing the passer builds off threatening the edge with a great jump off the snap and outside swipe/rip moves (usually in combination). Occasionally he'll dive back inside with a spin or try to go through a tackle, but mostly he attacks the edge with speed.
It's hard to argue with Tuszka's pared down approach given how much success he had in college. He earned an elite 91.8 pass-rush grade from PFF and produced pressure on 22% of his rushes—a mark that would have placed third among FBS edge defenders in 2019. I don't know if his simplified tactics will play in the NFL, but I sure am excited to watch him give them a try.
Of course, the massive caveat to all the above is that he played against very low-level competition. Most of the tackles and tight ends he was abusing will never even sniff an NFL field. While that makes it impossible to project his performance in the NFL with confidence, Tuszka checks all the boxes he could: his tape is solid, he was statistically productive, and he tested like a top tier NFL athlete. Those things make him a worthwhile flier, especially as a 7th round pick.
And perhaps most importantly, Tuszka is a hard worker with a great attitude and is looking to make an impact on special teams. Here's another quote from that same interview with Music City Miracles.
"My versatility will be a huge asset at the next level. I can rush the passer and every team is looking to get more pressure on the quarterback. I can also drop in coverage and help in the passing game. More important than all of that, I’m a great special teams player as well. I have a strong desire to play on special teams. I have a high motor and I’m a hard worker. I feel like I’d be a great addition to any team that picks me. They’re going to be glad they took a chance on me."
This is the type of player that an organization should be looking to add to their special teams units. Like Tyrie Cleveland, our other 7th round pick that projects as a special teams player, Tuszka is a plus athlete with good measurables. Unlike Cleveland, however, Tuszka also performed really well at his natural position, and he has a fighting chance to make an impact beyond special teams. I'm high on the Tuszka pick for that reason: he looks like an immediate contributor on special teams with the potential for more. That mix of short term utility plus longer term upside makes for excellent value at the end of the draft.