BROCK AND SALK

Huard’s Seahawks Draft Profile: A ‘ninja’ on the edge

Apr 8, 2024, 2:38 PM

Just four years ago, Laiatu Latu was told he’d never play football again. Now he’s one of the more intriguing defensive prospects in the 2024 NFL Draft, and one that could fill multiple roles for the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

Seattle Seahawks Draft: A versatile WSU standout on defense

Latu spent his college career wreaking havoc on offenses in the Pac-12 while playing for the UCLA Bruins and UW Huskies. The 23-year-old edge rusher was Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2023 and led the nation with 21 1/2 tackles for loss during his senior season at UCLA.

Latu was also the subject of former NFL quarterback Brock Huard’s Seattle Seahawks draft profile on Monday during Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk.

“I’m gonna give you a 6-foot-5, 260-pound ninja,” Huard said. “… That’s what Laiatu Latu is. That’s the closest thing that I can characterize him. … (Senior Bowl Executive Director Jim Nagy) sent out some tape and he was like, ‘I’m sorry man, this is ‘Matrix’-like stuff.'”

Versatility and production

Latu has been one of the nation’s most productive defensive players the past two years with the Bruins. On top of leading the country in tackles for loss last season, Latu racked up 49 tackles, 13 sacks and two forced fumbles. He showed off his versatility by dropping back into coverage for two interceptions, as well. It resulted in him winning the Lombardi Award, which is annually given to college football’s top lineman, and being named an Associated Press first-team All-American.

Over the past two seasons, Latu ranked first in the nation in overall grade, sacks, pass-rush win rate and pass-rush grade, and second in total pressures, according Pro Football Focus.

“At UCLA over the last two years with NFL schemes and NFL coordinators, he played the edge, he played the three-technique, he played all over the line of scrimmage,” Huard said. “… He’s one of these rare, rare guys that could play anywhere in the front seven, not ‘mike‘ or ‘will‘, but you put him on any edge or you put him in any nickel situation at 260 (pounds), he could come in on third downs and go up against some of these guards in this league and absolutely own them and eat them up. So, he’s going to be a first-round pick.”

Why Latu could fall to Seahawks at No. 16

For as good as Latu has been in his college career, which included playing in 12 games as a true freshman at UW in 2019, the Sacramento, Calif., native’s injury history could send him falling down draft boards. Latu sustained a neck injury during the fall of 2020 while with the Huskies and was never cleared to play by the team’s doctors. It forced a medical retirement, and he missed the 2020 and 2021 seasons before revitalizing his career at UCLA.

“There will, of 32 NFL teams, be teams that look at that MRI the way that the UW doctors did, the way that the UW staff did, the way the UW personnel did and say, ‘I’m sorry. There’s just too much risk here for me to clear you and play you,'” Huard said. “There will be teams that will do the same and take him off of their draft boards, and then there will be teams that put on that tape and go, ‘whoa, positionless.’”

Listen to Brock Huard’s full draft profile on Laiatu Latu at this link or in the audio player at near the top of this story. Tune in to Brock and Salk weekdays from 6-10 a.m.

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