USC Head Coach Clay Helton believes the Jets new OL Alijah Vera-Tucker, who was selected No. 14 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, put himself on the NFL radar when he kicked out to tackle in 2020 after playing guard for the Trojans in 2019.
"Coming out of high school, playing offensive tackle in high school, coming to USC and being an elite interior guard up until this last year, he really showed the power that he plays with the position," Helton said in an interview on NFL Network. "Then he showed the versatility this last year, being able to bump out to tackle with that unique athleticism that he showed. I think the NFL scouts saw a kid that could be like a Quenton Nelson a couple years ago, being able to be that elite interior player, but also be able to get you out of a pinch and move out to tackle whether it's in game or in season. That versatility showed this year and I think that spoke volumes to NFL scouts.
"Then you talk about the person that he is in the building, that blue-collar work ethic that you talk about. He's the same guy each and every day. He believes in the team success over his own individual success. That's the reason he was a captain for us. I'm so proud for him to be able to head to New York and do some great things on the next level."
Vera-Tucker (6-4, 308), who Jets GM Joe Douglas traded up nine spots to select, was voted USC's OL of the Year in 2019 over Austin Jackson, who was selected by the Dolphins in the first round of last year's draft. This past season Vera-Tucker won the Morris Trophy, awarded annually to the best offensive and defensive linemen in the conference. The award is voted on by opposing players, so in this case, the Pac-12's defensive linemen voted for Vera-Tucker.
AVT played in 31 games in three seasons for the Trojans, starting 13 at LG and 6 at LT after he was the backup RG for 12 games in 2018. He won't start at left tackle for the Jets with Mekhi Becton protecting Zach Wilson's blindside, but many analysts think he'd be a great fit next to Becton at LG. Helton believes Vera-Tucker could easily make the transition from tackle back to guard after doing the opposite before his final year at 'SC.
"He played three years for us at an elite level and really didn't give up a sack his junior year (at LG) in that entire year," Helton said. "He has tremendous athleticism in all your run schemes. He's a guy who can get out in space, can run outside zone, power on inside zone and be able to really get out in space on the second level and be able to connect with defenders and be able to lock on them and show those great feet that he has. You're really getting a talented a player that I think can really fit into what the Jets want to do."