This is the second installment in the preseason evaluation series. The first was Tunsil’s Ole Miss teammate Robert Nkemdiche.
Tunsil mans the left tackle spot for the Rebels, with an emphasis on “man”. He’s a very high-end prospect, but even a Ferrari needs tuning up. There are a couple of areas where I would like to see Tunsil improve in his final season in the physical, demanding SEC West.
Rules of Engagement
It’s not often an offensive lineman’s exceptional athleticism is a negative, but for the rising junior it creates an awkward critique. Tunsil is great at getting out into space as a run blocker, but he has some struggles engaging defenders once he’s out there.
Here’s an example from the LSU game.
Tunsil does a very good job in holding at the line on the initial action. Many tackles like to cheat a bit and leave right away to get out as far and fast as they can. He doesn’t do that, and that helps sell the trickery in the backfield.
It’s out in space where Tunsil can get better. There is no problem with his athleticism or footwork or speed. All of those look fantastic here.
Unfortunately, all that athletic prowess accomplishes nothing. Tunsil fails to engage any of three potential targets in space. Sure, it’s well down the field and the play is a big gain. It could have been even bigger if Tunsil connected with a block. He was in great position.
It happens closer to the line, too. Like this play from later on in the first quarter against LSU:
Tunsil clears into the second level with graceful ease, but once away from the tight formation he simply cannot find his blocking assignment. There were several examples like this one in the Mississippi State game as well.
This might look familiar to Texans fans, who watched Duane Brown display similarly excellent athleticism only to struggle to put it to proper use in space. Brown has improved at this from his days at Virginia Tech, and I suspect Tunsil will too.
Everyone knows how Tunsil’s sensational sophomore season ended. A broken fibula suffered in the Peach Bowl loss to TCU caused Tunsil to miss all of spring football.
It was a fluke injury; quarterback Bo Wallace fell on him from behind. That can happen to anyone and it should be treated as simple rotten luck. However, Tunsil has had some other injury issues throughout his Ole Miss career.
He missed two games, and parts of a third, after suffering a biceps injury against LSU last fall. Tunsil also missed the bowl game following his freshman campaign after tweaking a knee a month earlier against Mississippi State.
Soft tissue injuries are a different animal than broken bones. Teams will be watching him closely to see if he’s fully recovered from the ankle and leg issue, but also to see if the rest of his body can handle the rigors of a 13-game season. It would be nice to see him play a full slate without missing a drive due to any injury issues.
In his favor, Tunsil bounced back from the biceps injury and played a fantastic game against second-round pick Preston Smith and a very talented Mississippi State defense. Teams have shown a willingness to overlook some history of minor injuries as long as the high-ceiling talent justifies the risk. Tunsil certainly offers that potential; he’s the best overall underclassmen tackle I’ve seen since Joe Thomas.
One issue I’m not overly concerned with his is June arrest for domestic violence against his stepfather. All accounts indicate Tunsil was standing up for his mother. It bears deeper investigation by NFL scouts but shouldn’t be more than a minor blip. He also is the subject of an NCAA investigation about potential contact with an agent stemming from allegations from the same stepfather. It’s on the flagpole but right now is colorless and not raised off the ground.