All week I have been looking at former first-round picks who have struggled early in their careers. Today, Tyson Alualu is in the crosshairs.
Alualu isn't quite like the other names on the list. No one is nearly ready to call the defensive tackle a bust, but it's also clear that he has not lived up to the 10th overall pick in the draft, either.
Alualu has battled knee injuries which have slowed his progress thus far. He has shown some ability to be a disruptive force inside, but his play has been unsteady. ProFootballFocus gave him a grade of -17.7 last year, noting that he was equally bad against the run and pass.
Grades on defensive tackles are tricky and can be a bit arbitrary, but if you listen closely to the way the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches talk about him, you can pick up hints that they feel he's underperformed, or at the very least hasn't hit his potential. Joe Cullen said of him recently:
"I think the world of Tyson as a player and in terms of his last season, we wouldn't have gone from 28th to 5th [ranked defense] if Tyson didn’t play like he did," Cullen said. I wouldn’t trade him for anybody. ... I think he really has a chance to really come into his own this year and if he’s on a healthy knee he can be as explosive as I believe he can be, that he has shown [in] some of the games that he has really dominated, the Denver game two years ago. I really believe he’s going to take another step forward in production. More splash plays, the sacks."
Hidden in the praise and the excuses is the frank assessment that Alualu has to make more big plays. He's only posted six sacks and 50 tackles in his first two years. That ranks 21st in sacks and 27th in tackles among players drafted since 2010.
If we just consider defensive tackles taken the last two years, he's in a similar boat with Marcell Dareus and is nowhere near the player Geno Atkins is.
Alualu hasn't been bad, and he still may explode, but neither has he been worthy of the 10th overall pick. He's been a solid talent more in line with the late first- or early second-round pick he was projected to be.
The Jaguars passed on Jason Pierre-Paul, Dez Bryant and even Tim Tebow (I kid, I kid) to take Alualu. They still may have a serious talent, but the clock is ticking.
It's time for Alualu to hit the next level or his (and general manager Gene Smith's) seat is going to be very warm.