The Pass Rusher Who Went from Retired to a Top Prospect in the 2024 NFL Draft
While many are hoping for the Minnesota Vikings to take a quarterback in the first round of the 2024 NFL Draft, there could be a number of positions that they target with the 11th overall pick.
The need at QB is pressing, but it is far from the only position that the Vikings need to look at this offseason. With all three of Marcus Davenport, Danielle Hunter, and D.J. Wonnum set to enter free agency this spring, they may need to find another pass rusher for their defense. Perhaps one option for that spot is Laiatu Latu out of UCLA, and he will be the focus of today’s edition of the Vikings Draft Thermometer series.
- Height: 6’5″
- Weight: 261 pounds
- Arm Length: 32 1/2″
- Hand Size: 9 3/8″
- Wingspan: 79 1/4″
- 40-Yard Dash: TBD
- School: Washington (2019-2020), UCLA (2022-2023)
- Games Watched: USC (2023), Utah (2023), Arizona (2023), Oregon State (2023)
Laiatu Latu was one of the most highly-touted recruits coming out of high school. 247 Sports rated him as a top-100 recruit in the country, giving him a four-star rating in the Class of 2019. As a result, Latu committed to Washington and spent his freshman season as a rotational piece on the defense.
However, his football career was put into jeopardy when Latu suffered a neck injury prior to the 2020 season. After the season, Latu medically retired, and it seemed like we may never see him take the field again after he did not participate in the 2021 season.
The pass rusher would then head to UCLA in 2022, though, and his career was quickly rejuvenated. Over two seasons with the Bruins, Latu recorded 34 tackles for loss along with 23.5 sacks. He was named the Lombardi Award winner for being the best defensive lineman in college football this season, and now, his name is a hot commodity heading into the 2024 NFL Draft.
- 2019: 15 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 0.5 sacks, 1 pass defended (8 games)
- 2022: 36 tackles, 12.5 TFLs, 10.5 sacks, 1 pass defended, 3 forced fumbles (13 games)
- 2023: 49 tackles, 21.5 TFLs, 13 sacks, 2 passes defended, 2 INTs, 2 forced fumbles (12 games)
The first thing that impresses about Latu is his ability to win in multiple ways as a pass rusher. He possesses a sturdy, compact frame that brings a lot of power and athletic ability with it. Even if an opposing offensive lineman is able to counter his first move, Latu simply transitions to a handful of others that he has in his back pocket such as a swim, rip-through, chop.
This attention to detail with his technique allows Latu to win in multiple different situations regardless of if he has leverage advantage or not. He is a very fluid athlete on the line, and he possesses a lightning quick spin move to get by opposing blockers.
Once Latu is in the backfield, he is very good at accelerating in pursuit of opposing QBs. This also comes in handy against the run, an area where he is very willing to get in the mix.
The problems with Latu largely lie with his strength and some inconsistency. His 79-inch wingspan is decent, but certainly is a bit short for the EDGE position in the NFL. This could cause some leverage mismatches with larger tackles at the next level.
Latu can also run himself out of plays by overcommitting to an angle. There were a few occasions where he seemed to have a free line at a QB, but he simply took a poor angle to get there, allowing opposing offensive linemen to get back into the picture or the QB to adjust in time.
Finally, Latu’s injury history will cause some concern. It wasn’t that long ago when his football career was considered to be over, and regardless of if he stays healthy, he will be 24 during his rookie season, so his career likely will be a bit shorter than other pass rushers in this class.
- Draft Stock: First Round
- Immediate Role: Starting EDGE/OLB
- NFL Comp: Jaelan Phillips
- Vikings Draft Thermometer: 70
At the end of the day, there are few prospects in this draft class as technically sound as Latu. While he may not have the most elite burst off the line of scrimmage and has a touch less length than other pass rushers, his array of counter moves and ability to continuously wear down offensive linemen should turn him into a first-round prospect. Seeing as the Vikings have a very serious need at the position, Minnesota should absolutely have Latu on their radar.
Filling the Vikings’ QB Void with a National Champion in the 2024 NFL Draft
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho and managing editor of PurplePTSD.com. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys running, gaming, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. Check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.