New York Jets offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker boasts a highly intriguing track record of production at the guard position.
While Alijah Vera-Tucker played left tackle for the USC Trojans as a redshirt junior in 2020, it appears his New York Jets future will be at the guard position. Playing on the inside will be nothing new for the Oakland, California native, who enjoyed a full season of elite production at left guard as a redshirt sophomore in 2019.
Let’s dig into the numbers behind Vera-Tucker’s impressive campaign at the guard position.
Vera-Tucker played offensive tackle and defensive end at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland. He was a four-star recruit and ranked as the nation’s No. 14 tackle prospect in the 2017 class by 247Sports.
To begin his Trojans career, Vera-Tucker redshirted his 2017 freshman season. In 2018, he appeared on special teams in all 12 of USC’s games and got occasional action as a backup guard on offense, logging 141 snaps at right guard over nine appearances, none of which were starts.
In 2019, Vera-Tucker was promoted to USC’s starting left guard spot. Vera-Tucker started all 13 games and tied for the team lead with 926 offensive snaps played, missing only 12 snaps all season (none of those were due to injury). He played alongside left tackle Austin Jackson, who wound up being selected by the Dolphins with the 18th overall pick in the 2020 draft. At the USC football team’s annual awards banquet, Vera-Tucker was named the Trojans’ 2019 Offensive Lineman of the Year over the NFL-bound Jackson.
So, keep in mind that all of this elite production from Vera-Tucker in 2019 came in his first season as a collegiate starter and his first-ever season as a starting guard.
Vera-Tucker earned a run blocking grade of 76.7 at Pro Football Focus in 2019. That ranked at the 94th percentile among qualified FBS guards and tops among all Pac-12 guards.
USC’s offense was extremely zone-heavy in 2019, as 76.8% of Vera-Tucker’s run blocking snaps came on a zone-blocking concept. Vera-Tucker thrived in that offense, playing his best football when he was asked to frequently get on the move rather than play with power. Three of Vera-Tucker’s four highest-graded performances as a run blocker came in games where USC ran a zone concept over 85% of the time.
The Trojans averaged 8.3 yards per carry when they ran into the left-side B-gap (towards the left guard’s outside shoulder), by far their best average in any particular direction. They picked up a first down or a touchdown on 63.0% of their attempts to Vera-Tucker’s outside shoulder, a rate that is simply out of this world. USC’s next-best conversion rate towards a particular gap was their 41.3% rate to the left-side edge.
For perspective, rushes typically convert about a quarter of the time – 25.8% of all NFL rush attempts in 2020 resulted in a conversion. For USC to be successful on over 60% of their runs to Vera-Tucker’s outside shoulder is mind-boggling.
The Jets’ newest running back, Michael Carter, could feed off of Vera-Tucker’s successful track record as a producer of big runs. In 2020, Carter rushed for 12.0 yards per carry and a 42.9% conversion rate when aiming for the left-side B-gap.
Surely, Mike LaFleur is having frequent daydreams about Carter taking wide-zone handoffs to the left side behind Vera-Tucker.