2021 NFL mock draft: Chiefs take USC defensive tackle Jay Tufele

For those who can’t get enough of the NFL’s draft processes, the 2021 mocks are already out and MMQB has the Chiefs going interior defensive line.

If you’re completely over all things related to the draft, we totally understand. It was wonderful to have a distraction from all things quarantine for a weekend, and the NFL Draft is a lot of fun, but if you follow it close from Thursday evening through the undrafted signings on Saturday night late, you can end up feeling overwhelmed by it all. Therefore, when the 2021 NFL Draft mocks start to come around a year in advance, it can be easy to roll your eyes.

Then again, for many of us, it’s never too early (or too much) to talk about football in any way, shape or form, and such mocks exist for good reason. Besides, what else do we have to do while sheltering-in-place? Even if you’re “drafted out,” it’s interesting to see who a team like the Kansas City Chiefs could pick and how a player’s stock will change in the next year.

Kevin Hanson from Sports Illustrated recently posted a 2021 NFL Draft mock and even he admits it’s “too early”. That said, he has the Chiefs looking to draft a defensive tackle with their first round investment—a move to get back into the trenches early in the draft. Specifically Hanson has the team taking Jay Tufele from the University of Southern California. He writes:

The Chiefs used their franchise tag on Chris Jones and many 2020 mock drafts projected Ross Blacklock to Kansas City as a potential long-term replacement. Whether Jones is on the roster in 2021 or beyond, adding a disruptive interior pass-rusher like Tufele, who’s extremely athletic for his 315-pound frame, makes sense if he’s available at the end of Round 1.

First let’s chat a bit about Tufele. The USC product thought about coming out in this year’s draft, so teams likely have a good amount of notes on his game already—Chiefs included. However, citing personal and professional goals, Tufele decided to return to school.

Tufele is still young, as he was only a redshirt sophomore last year, and should show considerable growth with each year he remains in school (and healthy). He came to USC as part of a heralded draft class that also included recently drafted OT Austin Jackson (Miami Dolphisn). Tufele had 41 tackles, including 5.5 for a loss, and 3.5 sacks for the Trojans in 2019 and ended the year as an all first-team Pac 12 honoree.

Tufele has the ceiling to be considered among the top interior linemen in his class, and if he develops as he could, the Chiefs likely won’t be able to reach him. (Consider where Derrick Brown went this year.) That said, if so, he would be a dynamic addition to a position that already has considerable impact.

For the Chiefs, their interest in adding someone so dynamic to the front line will likely depend on two things, and Hanson mentions the first in Chris Jones. Will Chris Jones play this year for the Chiefs on the franchise tag or will he sign a long-term extension? A deal is in the works and both sides are saying all the right things, so the Chiefs line will most likely feature Jones’ presence in the middle for years to come.

Alongside him, the Chiefs also have three more years of Khalen Saunders, a player once compared to Aaron Donald and whose rare blend of athleticism and size has fans excited about his potential. If Saunders makes the leap expected of him, then drafting a guy like Tufele could seem redundant given the presence of Derrick Nnadi and others as well. Then again, the maxim about the game being won in the trenches is true and Tufele’s talents at that draft spot would be considered a win no matter the context.

Next: Grading the Chiefs six draft picks