Tunsil isn’t to blame, of course. He did nothing but solidify his standing as one of the best players in his class. He impressed at the NFL Combine in February, and he didn’t slow down at Ole Miss pro day a month-plus later, bench pressing 225 pounds 34 times and posting a vertical jump of 28 1/2 inches.
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said afterwards, “If Tennessee doesn't move out of No. 1, this kid needs to be the pick.” But Tennessee did trade out. The Los Angeles Rams moved up to take a quarterback, and the Cleveland Browns — another potential landing spot for the former Ole Miss left tackle — traded out of No. 2 with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tunsil, to his credit, admitted he was a bit disappointed to hear the Titans moved out of No. 1. He wanted to be the first player off the board, and Tennessee had shown significant interest. But so it goes.
“It’s part of the business,” he said. “It happens. I’m human, it hurt. But, hey, I’m looking to give my all to another team.”
Tunsil was in Nashville for a pre-draft visit when the trade went down. He said the Titans handled what could have been an awkward situation “in a classy manner,” though he didn’t provide specifics.
“The big day is (Thursday),” he said. “I’m going to be patient, I’m going to land somewhere good. It’s in God’s hands. I can’t really describe the moment right now, man, because I’m not there. When they announce my name, it’s going to be a pretty exciting moment.”
While his future destination is now unclear, Tunsil hasn’t lost the appreciation of NFL draft experts.
“He’s ready to play,” former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions head coach Steve Mariucci. “Ready to play. He’s really good. He plays in a two-point stance every snap, OK. So we as coaches wish there wasn’t so much spread offense in high school and college these days, but that’s what it is. But you know what, the NFL is playing 63 percent in nickel and dime defense right now anyways against shotgun so we’re becoming that too. We’d like to see his hand on the ground, drive block and pancake somebody once in a while but that’s not the style of offense they run. But he’s athletic, he’s big enough, I think he’s going to be a Pro Bowler in the league.
“I think he’s the best player in the draft,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “It’s the same thing to me as last year we saw with Leonard Williams. He was the best player in the draft and he fell into the Jets’ lap at No. 6. It’s going to be the same type of a deal this year.”
San Diego makes sense for Tunsil at No. 3, but the Chargers have multiple needs and could go in any number of directions. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey, for example, is a popular projection. And there’s also the possibility a team prefers Notre Dame tackle Ronnie Stanley to Tunsil.
Mayock doesn’t believe there’s much separating the two.
“Where I come from on the tackle conversation is that I think Ronnie Stanley is in the same conversation as far as who the No. 1 tackle is,” Mayock said. “Tunsil is a little bit more foot explosive but Staney is a better run-blocker. When you take in the off-the-field considerations — Stanley has never had a problem, Tunsil has had a few. If you’re in the top-10 and you’re that close talent-wise the cleaner kid is Stanley. So there’s some people that think Stanley is going to go before Tunsil. Now if Tunsil starts to slide and when I say slide I don’t see him getting past 6-7-8 range.”
“Everybody tries to pit us against each other,” Tunsil said of the comparisons to Stanley. “We’re all the same players, man. He’s a great player, and I wish the best to him. We’re both good players.”
The Chargers are considered by some the trigger for the entire draft, not just the tackles. But their decision will certainly affect Tunsil.
“They’re the trigger to the whole thing now,” Mayock said. “They could surprise people and take DeForest Buckner who is a scheme fit and great player. They could take Jaylen Ramsey. Weddle has left for Baltimore and (Ramsey) would be a great fit for what they do on defense. Or one of the tackles. I’m still playing with that.”
The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Tunsil was a three-year starter for Ole Miss, earning All-America second team honors last season. After sitting out the first seven games due to an NCAA suspension, Tunsil returned with six starts at left tackle. The Rebels went 5-1 and averaged 201.7 rushing yards, 514 total yards per game and one sack allowed per game.
Without Tunsil, Ole Miss averaged 104 rushing yards, 411 total yards per game and three sacks.
“They didn’t ask him to do a lot of the drive-blocking stuff in the run game,” Jeremiah said. “But I think he can do it. He benched 34 reps (of 225 pounds on the bench press) or whatever he did, and you can see how he can roll his hips. He’s explosive. That’s just going to be a matter of time to figure that out.”
Former St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner believes the team that ends up with Tunsil will be getting a immediate-impact player from day one.
“I think Tunsil, what I see athleticism-wise, his movement, his ability to match up with speed rushers as well as power rushers, he reminds me of a guy like Orlando Pace,” Warner, now an NFL Network analyst, said. “He’s maybe not quite as long as Orlando was, but athletically, when I watched Orlando, you thought he looked like a power forward. He was big and strong and so athletic, and I see Tunsil being that way as well. I give him a slight advantage (over Stanley) from that standpoint, but I think both of those guys are going to do well.”
Tunsil will share his draft moment with Rebel teammates Laquon Treadwell and Robert Nkemdiche — the highly-touted trio achieving a goal they set for themselves when they signed with Ole Miss in 2013.
“It’s very special, man,” Tunsil said. “We actually sat down and talked about this goal, man. Us to be here and achieving it is very special. I always feel like I did the right thing. Ole Miss is a great place. I met some great people, I met a great coach. Hugh Freeze is like a father figure.”