NFL Analysis


4 min read

2024 NFL Draft: Why UCLA's Laiatu Latu Could Be First Pass Rusher Drafted

Laiatu Latu celebrates a sack.
UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Laiatu Latu (15) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the North Carolina Central Eagles during the first half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2024 NFL Draft, edge rusher is one of many position groups with no consensus at the top. 

In fact, tight end and wide receiver are the only positions where (in November, at least) we have a good idea of who will be the first player drafted in April.

A few players deserve consideration for the EDGE1 crown, so we will highlight who deserves to be the draft's top edge rusher.

Meet UCLA’s Laiatu Latu.

>> READ: Latest 2024 NFL Mock Draft

Latu's Background

College football fans are familiar with his name, but he’s underappreciated when discussing potential top-10 picks. Latu possesses all the tools to carry his college football dominance to the NFL.

A 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive lineman out of Sacramento, California, Latu has already been through so much at 22. 

Starting his collegiate career at Washington, Latu quickly made an impact on the Huskies' defense as a freshman. But neck injuries forced him to retire from football. After working to come back from the neck injury, Latu enrolled at UCLA in 2022 and has dominated since.

In 2022, Latu played in 13 games, recording 10.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. He backed up an impressive 2022 outing with an even better 2023 season, racking up 13 sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in his senior season.

Latu is an interesting evaluation because he lacks the high-end athletic traits many of the NFL’s best edge rushers possess outside of his size and technique. 

What Makes Him Special?

Latu has average-to-slightly-above-average bend, explosiveness and length. However, his technique and motor in both phases make him one of the most dangerous defensive ends in the draft. 

Latu uses a variety of pass rush moves but relies heavily on his cross-chops and quickness off the ball to beat offensive tackles. He does not solely rely on his technique to win, though. 

He’s shown the ability to win with straight power, converting his speed to power. Despite not having freaky flexibility like some recent edge prospects, Latu has enough flexibility in his lower half to flatten his rush path and win with bend.

Latu will enter the draft with NFL-ready size and technique. He has experience dropping into coverage, though keeping him on the ball is likely the best route to success. 

His hand technique and pass rush arsenal are already advanced for a player who has only played three college football seasons, and NFL coaching will only develop his hand usage and pass rush.

Along with his pass rush arsenal, Latu’s motor runs hotter than any player I’ve evaluated so far, regardless of position. You’d be hard-pressed to find another player in this draft class who puts more hustle plays on film than Latu. Whether it’s rushing down backside runs or chasing down quarterbacks inside or outside the pocket, he does it. 

His relentlessness is one of the many reasons he’s had so much success and been at the top of the college football ranks in sacks, pressures and quarterback hits in the last two seasons.

Washington State Cougars running back Nakia Watson (25) is brought down by UCLA Bruins defensive lineman Carl Jones Jr. (4) and defensive lineman Laiatu Latu (15) during the second half at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Areas of Concern

The only significant concerns in Latu’s evaluation are his medical evaluation and testing numbers. Those will get figured out at the NFL Scouting Combine. 

Even with all his strengths, NFL evaluators highly value athleticism in edge rushers when putting their final grades in.

Latu won't test poorly, but he might not test overly impressively, either. While the testing will help sort out the rankings between Latu, Dallas Turner, Chop Robinson and Jared Verse, the medical will decide how early Latu is drafted. 

If cleared medically, Latu has the track record, college production and enough physical and athletic traits to be the top edge rusher drafted. Still, until the combine, I will enjoy watching his tape and putting together his evaluation.

For now, he’s my EDGE1 with a top-10 grade in an impressive edge rusher class.