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NFL Draft Prospect Preview - Laiatu Latu

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

by Zachary Somma


Photo courtesy of UCLA Athletics.


At Draft 412, the NFL draft talk never ends. We will keep you ready for the next set of gridiron stars—from today and all the way until draft night 2024. We will bring you mock drafts, player profiles, individual team needs, and everything else you may need related to the 2024 NFL Draft.


Today’s Spotlight - UCLA, Edge, Laiatu Latu


Name- Laiatu Latu

Pos- Edge Rusher

Team- UCLA

HT/WT- 6’5” 265 lbs.

Born- 12/31/2000

Home- Sacramento, CA


A 4-star recruit out of high school, Latu began his collegiate career at Washington and had a decent 2019 freshman campaign before sustaining a major neck injury during fall practices in 2020. The injury was so severe that Latu not only missed both 2020 and 2021 seasons, but he was medically advised to retire from football by Washington team doctors, which he initially did. However, Latu made the decision to transfer to UCLA for the 2022 season, where doctors cleared him to return to football activities.


Laiatu Latu is a 5th year junior edge rusher, who was one of the most productive pass rushers in all of college football last season. Primarily a stand-up rusher from a wide 7 or 9 alignment, he can also play as a 5 or 4i technique from a down lineman position when asked to.


Latu has had a very interesting career at UCLA, reminiscent of 2021 1st round draft pick Jaelan Phillips. What followed was a very impressive and efficient season where he recorded 12 sacks and 65 pressures (per PFF); pressure numbers that put him tied with Will Anderson Jr. for 4th overall in all of college football, despite not being a full starter for the Bruins.


Latu had an enormous 2023 season for the Bruins. In 12 games he collected 13 sacks and 49 tackles, 21.5 of those tackles were for a loss.


As a pass rusher, Latu possesses all of the high-end traits that NFL edge rushers have. He has a diverse and dangerous arsenal of pass rush moves that he dips into often, including rip moves, swim moves and a surprisingly powerful bull rush that can catch unexpecting tackles off-guard. Latu pairs these moves with an extremely powerful get off and an explosive 1st step that also makes him a threat to win the outside of blockers. He has a lanky but strong frame, and huge wingspan that allows him to make first contact against most tackles and allowing him to set a strong edge against outside run plays and QB scrambles. Latu’s motor is on display on nearly every play, no matter how involved he ends up being during the action.


However, Latu can strangely be a bit of a non-factor in run defense at times. While he can set a strong edge, he loses some play strength when he is told to fill run gaps and can be moved out of position. He also can be somewhat inconsistent though not for a lack of effort. Latu often has games where he can explode for 5+ pressures and multiple sacks, and then follow it up with a game where can be noticeably absent from the stat sheet.


Of course, the elephant in the room for his draft stock will need to be answered in coaching interviews and how he deals with his past retirement. If NFL medical checks pre-draft paint a bleak picture, it would not be surprising to see Latu take a Nakobe Dean-esque fall come April.



Strengths


  • Varied Pass Rush Arsenal

  • Great 1st Step Burst

  • NFL Size Profile and Wingspan

  • Relentless Motor

  • Highly Productive Despite Limited Snaps



Weaknesses


  • Mediocre Run Defender

  • Major Injury History

  • Inconsistency Performance-Wise


Final Analysis


Overall, Laiatu Latu is a highly productive pass rusher who has NFL-ready size and length to pair with great athleticism. However, he could improve in run defense and play strength, and his medical checks pre-draft are going to be the main key to how high his draft stock can go.


Draft 412 Draft Prediction - Round 1

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