Prior to College, Stephen Tulloch was a highly recruited prep player out Killian High School in Miami, Florida. In both his junior and senior seasons he recorded 132 tackles and 12 sacks. He was awarded the Dade County Defensive Player of the Year for his achievements as a High School senior.
North Carolina State head coach Chuck Amato eventually won the recruiting war for Tulloch, who joined the Wolfpack as a freshman in 2003. Though he saw some playing time in his first year, Tulloch never became a starter until midway through his sophomore season.
In 2004 Tulloch started six games as the Wolfpack's weakside linebacker and made an immediate impact. In his first career start he totaled 13 tackles against ninth-ranked Ohio State. Remarkably, he accomplished this in just 33 snaps. By the time the season concluded he had racked up 75 tackles and averaged more tackles per play than anyone else on the team (one tackle every 3.8 plays). Out of his 75 tackles, 14 went for loss, which ranks 10th in the NC State record books. Tulloch was awarded the teams Defensive Newcomer Award following the 2004 season.
Tulloch didn't slow down in 2005 and was on the field for an amazing 815 plays. At season's end he had recorded 134 tackles, ranking second in the ACC and 12th in the nation. Twenty-one of those tackles went for loss, with an additional six sacks and nine quarterback hurries.
The highlight of Tulloch's 2005 season came against the South Florida Bulls in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Tulloch single-handedly dismantled the Bulls offense with 15 tackles (five for loss) and three sacks. At the end of the game Tulloch was awarded the bowl MVP for his efforts.
He finished his 2005 season as a first-team All-ACC linebacker.
Tulloch has amazing instincts, plain and simple. This is the core of his game and few do it better. Whether it's film study, innate ability or telepathy, he always seems to be right in the middle of every play. He's the type of player that will stifle an offense on three successive plays, forcing a three and out. Even when you try to go away from his side he finds a way to diagnose the play and disrupt it.
When it comes to technique Tulloch is a very sound player. He does a nice job of bending his knees and keeping his pad level low, so he can handle larger blockers. He's also a high-quality tackler that will lay out an opponent if given the opportunity.
Tulloch often sets a textbook example on how to flow to the football. He keeps his head up and shoulders parallel to the line of scrimmage with nice knee bend and explosion. It is rare to see him caught out of position, and he does a nice job of sifting through trash before attacking downhill.
Tulloch is a very strong and well-conditioned athlete. With his incredibly high stamina he can make plays from sideline-to-sideline in all four quarters. He's relentless until the sound of the whistle and about as high motor as they come.
The biggest knock on Tulloch is his height. At 5'10" he isn't quite as tall as most scouts and prognosticators would like. As productive as he's been in college you would think that this wouldn't be much of an issue. He's proven himself to be a playmaker and there is no reason why he couldn't develop into a player like Zach Thomas, Dat Nguyen or Lofa Tatupu.
The only other blemish on Tulloch's profile is the slow 4.83 he ran in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. If you've seen him play, however, you'd know that he's one of those players that plays faster than the stopwatch. While running around on the field he looks more like a 4.5 or 4.6 guy.
No ACC linebacker has impressed me more than Stephen Tulloch. Even with players like Gerris Wilkerson, A.J. Nicholson and Ernie Sims within his conference, I consider Tulloch to be the best. Due to his marvelous instincts, Tulloch is a prime candidate to play middle linebacker in the NFL. Though he's been ultra-productive as a weakside linebacker he's exactly the type of intuitive player teams want in the middle of their defense.
A lot of teams will overlook this guy because he isn't as tall or as fast as they'd like. I think he far outplays his measurables and has the ability to be the next Zach Thomas. If put into a normal situation, he would likely have an up-and-down rookie year like most players do. He should begin to show flashes of brilliance towards the end of the season, provided he's in the lineup and not backing up a Ray Lewis or Brian Urlacher.
Although he carries an early second round grade on my personal value board, I doubt he'll be drafted until the third or fourth round. A lot of teams will kick themselves later on for passing on this guy.
Tale of the Tape:
College: North Carolina State
Position: Outside-Middle Linebacker
Weight: 241 lbs
40-Yard Dash: 4.86
Vertical Jump: 33.5''
Mike Campbell is a writer for WarPaint Illustrated, our Chiefs affiliate at Scout.com.