Player Spotlight: UCLA EDGE Laiatu Latu

Latu racked up 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in 2023.
Latu racked up 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in 2023. / Ryan Kang/GettyImages

Name: Laiatu Latu
Position: Edge Rusher
School: UCLA
Age (Draft Day): 23
Height/Weight: 6'5", 259 lbs


If you want to just look at the tape, Latu is one of the most exciting prospects in this draft class. He is an elite pass rusher with great production and a wide array of moves to beat blockers. His athleticism does not wow, but he meets all the necessary thresholds to be a high-level starter at the next level. At a position of value with 24 sacks and 35.5 tackles for loss over the past two years, Latu has the profile of a player who could be selected in the top five.

However, this is a loaded draft on the offensive side of the ball and Latu comes with a major medical red flag. He medically retired from football when he was at Washington back in 2021 due to a serious neck injury. He wound up transferring to UCLA in 2022 and they medically cleared him to return to play. It is definitely a concern regarding his longevity, but he has looked great in back-to-back seasons and the general buzz seems to be positive from how the league feels about it.


Pass rushing: It is hard to remember a player coming out in the draft in recent years who has been as polished of a pass rusher as Latu. He has such a deep bag of moves to beat opponents. He routinely breaks out arm over, swim, spin and cross chop moves to fool blockers. He has a clear plan to set up lineman throughout the game and keeps them guessing as to what he is going to throw next. This should translate immediately to the next level.

Hand usage: Latu's hands are so fast. He knows how to use them to keep blockers off of him and away from his chest. He disengages well and knows where to attack in order to blow past opponents. It is consistent and impressive.

First step: While Latu is not an elite athlete, he is very quick off the line. He times the snap well and launches into action immediately. He uses it to get linemen on their heels and then lets his preparation and technique do the rest. It makes him very effective shooting gaps while lining up all over the defensive line.

Motor: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. Well, Latu has talent and one of the most relentless motors you will find. He brings it on every single snap. If he does not win with his first move, he will throw another and another, until he finally breaks through. He continues to fight through blockers late into games as well and relishes the opportunity to go to work when he knows his opponent is tired.


Play strength: Latu's biggest drawback is the lack of elite play strength. Let's be clear, he is not weak. He can hold the point of attack and set the edge, but he is susceptible to double teams and does not win with power. His game is predicated on finesse, speed and technique. He will not win with bullrushes and he can struggle at times in short-yardage situations. That is not how he should be used, but it limits his scheme fits.

Run defense: While Latu has improved against the run, he still struggles to make a major impact. He will make some great plays by shooting gaps and bringing down runners in the backfield, but he is average at best at doing the dirty work in run defense. He can get over-aggressive in trying to get into the backfield, allowing backs to get to the edge. Latu will need to improve how he plays the run to be a true three-down player.

Tackling: Easily the most frustrating and inexplicable part of Latu's game is his tackling. He regularly fails to wrap up or will simply throw a shoulder into ball carriers in hopes of knocking them off their feet. He is wildly disruptive, but there are some plays that he fails to finish that will drive defensive coaches crazy at the next level.

NFL Comparison: Josh Allen

Josh Allen, Roy Robertson-harris
Carolina Panthers v Jacksonville Jaguars / Mike Carlson/GettyImages

This is easily my favorite comp for Latu. He and Allen have very similar frames and testing numbers. Allen was also a very productive pass rusher coming out of college who won more with refined technique than power. Since entering the NFL, he has 45 sacks in 74 games, highlighted by a 17.5-sack season in 2023.

NFL Draft Outlook: First-round pick

I seem to be a bit higher on Latu than the consensus. I think he deserves to be in the conversation for the first defensive player selected in 2024. He could be a really good fit for Atlanta at No. 8 with the Falcons shifting to a 3-4 scheme. The Rams, Buccaneers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Ravens all feel like good potential landing spots for Latu as well.

Grade: 89