2021 NFL draft: USC's Alijah Vera-Tucker is OG1, but should he play tackle?

Leading up to the 2021 NFL draft, which starts April 29, Yahoo Sports will count down our top 100 overall prospects. We’ll count them down in groups of five for Nos. 100-51, followed by more in-depth reports on our top 50 players, with help from our scouting assistant, Liam Blutman. We reserve the right to make changes to players’ grades and evaluations based on injury updates, pro-day workouts or late-arriving information from NFL teams.

Other prospect rankings: Nos. 100-96 | 95-91 | 90-86 | 85-81 | 80-76 | 75-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. OT Liam Eichenberg | 49. WR Terrace Marshall Jr. | 48. LB Chazz Surratt | 47. EDGE Joe Tryon | 46. OT-OG Alex Leatherwood | 45. CB Asante Samuel Jr. | 44. DL Levi Onwuzurike | 43. LB Jabril Cox | 42. DT Daviyon Nixon | 41. EDGE Ronnie Perkins | 40. LB Nick Bolton | 39. CB Ifeatu Melifonwu | 38. WR Elijah Moore | 37. OT Jalen Mayfield | 36. EDGE Carlos Basham Jr. | 35. CB Elijah Molden | 34. RB Travis Etienne | 33. WR Kadarius Toney | 32. EDGE Jayson Oweh | 31. LB Zaven Collins | 30. DT Christian Barmore | 29. QB Mac Jones | 28. CB Caleb Farley | 27. RB Javonte Williams | 26. C-OG Landon Dickerson | 25. S Trevon Moehrig | 24. CB Greg Newsome II | 23. WR Rashod Bateman | 22. EDGE Greg Rousseau | 21. OT Christian Darrisaw | 20. RB Najee Harris | 19. LB-S Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah | 18. EDGE Jaelan Phillips | 17. OT Teven Jenkins | 16. EDGE Kwity Paye | 15. CB Jaycee Horn | 14. OT-OG Rashawn Slater | 13. OG-OT Alijah Vera-Tucker | 12. WR DeVonta Smith | 11. EDGE Azeez Ojulari | 10. CB Patrick Surtain II | 9. OT Penei Sewell | 8. QB Zach Wilson | 7. LB Micah Parsons | 6. QB Trey Lance | 5. WR Jaylen Waddle | 4. QB Justin Fields | 3. WR Ja'Marr Chase | 2. TE Kyle Pitts | 1. QB Trevor Lawrence

Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)
Here's how we use our prospect grades for the 2021 NFL draft. (Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports)

13. USC OT-OG Alijah Vera-Tucker

6-foot-5, 305 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 6.12 — possible immediate starter

TL;DR scouting report: Thick-bodied consistent performer with high floor who could be slid inside from left tackle

Games watched: Notre Dame (2019), Iowa (2019), Arizona (2020), Utah (2020), Oregon (2020)

The skinny: A 4-star Rivals recruit (No. 176 nationally), Vera-Tucker picked the Trojans over pretty much every Pac-12 school — and many other big programs. After redshirting his first season, Vera-Tucker played 12 games in reserve at right guard in 2018. The next season, he earned the left guard role and started all 13 games, earning second-team all-Pac-12 and was named USC’s Offensive Lineman of the Year (over 2020 first-rounder Austin Jackson). After initially opting out for the 2020 season, Vera-Tucker rejoined the Trojans when the Pac-12 resumed play. He started all six games and was named first-team all-conference. Following the season, Vera-Tucker declared for the 2021 NFL draft.

Upside: Thick, wide frame. Good core strength and nice pop in his upper body. Looked the part at his pro day — above-average to excellent numbers in the 40-yard dash (5.10 seconds, 1.77-second 10-yard split), vertical jump (32 inches), broad (106 inches), short shuttle (4.63 seconds), 3-cone drill (7.70 seconds) and bench press (32 reps). Measured out a shade taller (6-foot-4 1/2) than some expected.

Quick and forceful off the snap. Generates quick power in tight spaces. Good drive blocker who works his lower half well. Not a mauler, per se, but he shows some real finishing traits in the run game. Comes with his hard hat on and is willing to play ugly if needed. Fluent in zone and gap runs.

Looked natural at left tackle in 2020. Wanted the chance to play there and mostly flipped aces. Fast hands give him an early edge — lands his punch and counter occasionally before opponent can even strike. Good balance and control in his pass sets. Mostly smooth and in control with his technique. Threw down a few decent anchors against big bull rushes. Good awareness — spots trouble quickly.

USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker performed better than expected at his pro day. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
USC OL Alijah Vera-Tucker performed better than expected at his pro day. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Moves outside better than you’d think for his girth. Shuffles well and works laterally with ease. Good short-side puller who turns the corner pretty well and is ready to strike moving targets.

Multi-positional versatility — starting experience inside and out and could be tried at center even. Has good football acumen, according to the staff, and is a driven player intent on proving he should get a shot at left tackle.

Strong playing temperament — feisty and competitive. Consistent and reliable, game to game and snap to snap. Considered to be a higher-floor prospect with upward mobility. Improved his draft stock, even with a short 2020 season.

Downside: Short frame for a tackle — arm length (32 1/8 inches) and wingspan (76 7/8 inches) would put him near the bottom of all starting NFL tackles. Small hands (9 5/8 inches). Came in at 308 pounds at his pro day — was he bigger during the season? (Faux girth?)

Only 19 career starts — with six coming at left tackle. Many teams will try him at guard first, and the lesser positional value could push him down the board a few picks.

Could be vulnerable to wider rushes. A tad stiff and rushed in his approach. Had a rough time with Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, a possible top-five pick in 2022, although most opponents did (and Vera-Tucker handled him better than USC’s right tackle did).

Will play too upright and lose leverage. Will get too narrow-based vs. interior mass — can’t always anchor against the biggest of the big. Can lose protracted hand fighting. Lurches on some short-yardage blocks. Got passed up by the back on a few pulls.

Best-suited destination: We might be in the minority here, but try him at tackle first. Maybe a year from now we’re in a world where offensive linemen who don’t have humpback-whale-flipper arm length can still play outside. This class has a number of prospects in that mold, and Vera-Tucker might be the best of the lot.

Could he make a fine guard? We think so. But he just put out 5.5 good game tapes at left tackle, and we’d like to see a bit more.

We watched both Austin Jackson (2019) and Vera-Tucker (2020) play the same spot the past two years, and Vera-Tucker is just a better, more consistent performer. We understand the length concerns for him, and if a move to guard is in the offing, so be it. Vera-Tucker has Pro Bowl potential there. We just wouldn’t mind him being tried outside.

Did you know: Vera-Tucker’s parents divorced when he was young, and his last name is a portmanteau of his given name (Tucker) and his mother’s second husband (Sylvester Vera). Alijah wanted to honor him for the role he played in helping raise him. Both surnames are tattooed on each of his arms.

Player comp: Joe Thuney

Expected draft range: Top-25 pick

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