USC’s Hayes Pullard, a four-year starter, is one of just two active Pac-12 Conference players with at least 350 tackles, as his 377 hits placed seventh among all current FBS performers and is topped by only Cal’s Eric Kendricks (480) on the league active charts. After posting 94 hits in his first season at middle linebacker in 2013, he led the team with 95 more stops in 2014, as he also intercepted one pass and deflected eight others.
The former weak-side ‘backer has a compact, but thick frame with a good bubble, thick and muscular thighs and calves, along with a V-shaped torso. He has a good feel for blocking schemes and makes sudden reads off the snap to keep the ball in sight. He is a ferocious tackler inside the box (rated the hardest-hitting tackler in the Pac-12) than along the perimeter, but he breaks down and fits well when tackling in front of him and the thing you see on film is his ability to hit the ball carrier with a good thud.
Even with average foot speed, he has the change-of-direction skills, along with good depth on his pass drops to take a good angle closing on the thrown ball. He is quick to transition from the draw read and gets good depth when handling play action. In short area man coverage, he has the quickness to stay with tight ends and slot receivers.
He has loose hips when trying to redirect and will close with good form on plays in front of him. He plays more in the zone than in man coverage and has the feel to handle switch-offs in the open. He has a decent burst when turning in coverage and showed improved hand placement as a senior to prevent separation and make plays on the ball in flight (hands are not natural as an interceptor, though).
Pullard compensates for a lack of foot speed with good change of direction agility and field smarts. He understands blocking schemes and does a good job of making calls and adjustments to the pre-snap movement. He is a low rep type that will not have problems playing in a complicated defense.
The Trojans linebacker attacks the holes with good urgency, but generally stays in control, knowing that if he over-pursues that he does not have the feet to quickly recover. He does a good job of making adjustment on the pre-snap and even though his overall strength is adequate, his hands are superb, as he knows when to place them or shoot them, generating enough force to push the lineman back into the pocket.
Pullard has adequate timed speed (4.78), but is a solid performer in pass coverage, as he knows how to open his hips properly. It is rare to see backs and tight ends get behind him often, as he has solid plant-&-drive agility coming out of his breaks and shows good urgency getting to the ball. Even when he is late and knows he won’t make the play, he will still hustle until the whistle.
Pullard displays great hand usage and is very quick to shed. His lower body strength is just adequate (skinny legs), but he fights hard to maintain position at the point of attack vs. the larger blockers. Because of his ability to stay up and play on his feet at the line of scrimmage, he gets good penetration vs. isolated blocks. He will get tied up some vs. double team activity, and he has just adequate strength to fight when trapped in a phone booth. His hand position allows him to generate a good press on tight ends in attempts to reroute, but he will need to use his hands better to keep blockers off his feet (gets cut a lot).
Pullard is best playing in the box rather than generating long pursuit, but he does have enough functional speed to chase down ball carriers on outside screens. He has the hand punch but lacks the lower body strength to anchor. Still, he is efficient enough to work his way back into position. He works hard to scrape and will not hesitate to plug the inside rush lanes, even though he lacks the raw power to prevent from getting bounced around a bit (needs to improve his lower body strength to better stack and control).