Scouting Jets defensive tackle Leki Fotu

Arizona Cardinals v Cleveland Browns
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Taking a look at a Jets defensive tackle

Now that free agency is well and truly underway, we’re going to be breaking down the players acquired by the Jets so far, continuing today with defensive tackle Leki Fotu.

The 25-year old Fotu is listed at 6’5” and 330 pounds. He was a fourth round pick out of Utah in 2020. He started 21 games in four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, recording 89 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Background

Fotu is originally from Tonga and was a rugby player when he was younger before becoming a four-star high school recruit as a defensive end.

He was recruited to Utah where Jets legend Sione Po’uha was on the staff for three of his four seasons, including as defensive line coach in his senior year.

While he barely saw action in his freshman year, Fotu started two games in his sophomore year and then broke out as a full-time starter in his last two seasons.

He started 26 games in 2018 and 2019 and was a two-time first-team all-Pac 12 selection as he anchored a Utah defense that had one of the best run defenses in the nation. Fotu had 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2018 and 25 tackles and 1.5 sacks in 2019.

Despite injuries disrupting his pre-draft preparations at the Senior Bowl and scouting combine, Fotu was drafted in the fourth round by the Cardinals and had 11 tackles, including four tackles for loss and a sack, in 11 games off the bench in his rookie year.

In 2021, he started the first three games of his career and ended the season with 19 tackles and three passes defensed.

He started nine games in 2022 and had a career high 31 tackles, then started nine of the first 11 games in 2023 before injury caused him to miss most of the rest of the year. He saw brief action in the season finale. Prior to the injury, he had been on course for a career year with 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

The Jets signed Fotu to a one-year deal worth up to $2.5 million.

Now let’s take a look at what Fotu brings to the table, divided into categories.

Measurables/Athleticism

The main thing Fotu brings to the table is size. He is listed at 330 pounds and has 34.5-inch arms. He previously only weighed 255 as a high school recruit.

Fotu is clearly an excellent athlete for a man his size and he ran a 5.15 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. However, other than the bench press (21 reps), he was unable to do any of the other workout disciplines due to injury.

Usage

Although he arrived at Utah as a defensive end, he only really played inside during his college career, other than a very occasional rep outside here and there.

He has the ability to play over the center, but he also lined up in the A-gap and opposite the tackle with the Cardinals, so he’s not just a nose tackle.

With the Cardinals, he also played two snaps as a fullback on offense. On one, he false started, but the other was a touchdown, albeit on a naked bootleg as he was used as a decoy.

Motor

Fotu is never going to be an every down player, and the highest snap count he has had in any NFL season was 499. He did play over 60 snaps in a college game once, though, so he can handle a starter’s workload if required.

He’s a player who exhibits effort on and off the field and displays hustle in the trenches and in pursuit.

Pass rush

Fotu’s pressure rates at the NFL level have been consistently low, although 2023 was a slight improvement on his first three years. He entered 2023 with only one sack, then posted 2.5 in 11 games in 2023, so there are signs he’s improving in this area.

His main role is to bull rush and collapse the pocket and he displays power and gets good traction when doing this.


He isn’t regarded as having an elite get-off but has some quickness to break into the backfield and close.


In college, his pressure numbers were higher, but he’s obviously still figuring out how to win matchups against NFL-level talent.

Run defense

Fotu anchored a Utah defense that was the fourth best in the nation against the run in 2018 and third best in 2020.

He is obviously a big body and tough to move, but also displays some quickness to shoot gaps and penetrate.


Fotu has shown that he is capable of two-gapping, taking on blocks and reacting to the flow to bottle up runs.


In his time with the Cardinals, Fotu has been inconsistent against the run. He can struggle to hold up to double teams and will get sealed off or moved out of the middle in short yardage situations.


Technique

When battling in the trenches, Fotu utilizes powerful hand strikes and arm extension to work his way off blocks.


However, pad level can be an issue at the point of attack and his base is often too narrow to enable him to anchor.


While he mostly relies on his strength, length and power to fight off blocks, Fotu has also had some success with a swim move to separate himself from his blocker in both pass rushing situations and against the run.

Special teams

Fotu’s primary role on special teams has been rushing kicks and punts. He blocked a field goal in college and another one at the NFL level.


However, he has also contributed as a blocker on the placekicking unit. In college, he also had a role in punt protection.

He had a couple of special teams penalties at the NFL level, including a false start, and one at the college level.

Tackling

Fotu isn’t a particularly productive tackler, as his role often entails penetrating so someone else can make a play as runs are bottled up.

He always hustles well in pursuit and takes good angles but will still occasionally miss tackles from time to time.


Fotu has forced one fumble at the NFL level, having also forced another three during his collegiate career.


Coverage

Fotu isn’t someone who will drop into coverage very often. In fact, he didn’t do this at all in 2023. However, he will still hustle to get in on the tackle when there’s a quick pass.

He does have three pass breakups at the NFL level, all of which came on passes he deflected at the line in 2021. He had three in college too.


Instincts/Intelligence

Fotu’s play recognition is generally good, enabling him to anticipate the direction and beat his man at the outside shoulder to win an early leverage advantage.

He also displays an ability to react quickly, both when two-gapping or when a quick pass has been thrown.


He has had seven penalties for being offside or in the neutral zone in his four seasons, in addition to two false starts on offense and special teams.

Attitude/Demeanor

Fotu is regarded as a gentle giant, who was a team captain in college displaying quiet and humble leadership. He is a coachable player who soaks up information, practices hard and is prepared to do the dirty work in the trenches.

While his on-field discipline hasn’t been bad, Fotu has had two personal fouls for roughing the passer and a grabbing the face mask at the NFL level, and was also ejected for targeting once in college (albeit on a controversial call).

There was also an accusation of “dirty” play in one Arizona game where he seemed to deliberately clamp Sam Howell’s helmet between his heels and slammed his head to the ground.

Injuries

Fotu has avoided any serious injuries but missed five games in 2023 due to a broken hand and had a brief stint on injured reserve in his rookie year with an ankle injury. He played all 17 games despite suffering shoulder injuries in both 2021 and 2022.

While he only missed one game in college, Fotu received a medical flag at the Senior Bowl and wasn’t allowed to practice, then injured his hamstring at the combine.

Scheme Fit

Fotu was considered to be an ideal fit for a team that employs a nose tackle in odd-man fronts and has shown that he has the ability to two-gap within such a role. This is of little use to the Jets, though, who probably won’t use him that way other than in short yardage situations.

Nevertheless, he has also played in the gaps and had some good production, so the Jets will hope he can perform well in their system. Looking at a lot of his negative plays, these seem to see him being sealed off after penetrating into the backfield, which may actually be what’s required of him from his assignment in the Jets’ system anyway, with the reliance on the linebackers to clean up when the runner is forced in a certain direction.

He’s most likely to have a rotational role with the Jets, which will see him rotating in with the second unit and then coming out of the game in passing situations, so he might not often be in the game for more than a few plays in a row and perhaps won’t play alongside Quinnen Williams very often.

Fotu was a teammate of current Jets Manny Jones and Tae Hayes in Arizona. He was also a college teammate of unsigned Jets free agents Bradlee Anae and Javelin Guidry, who could yet return.

Conclusions

The Jets needed to add some beef to their defensive line, after typically being overrun whenever Williams left the game over the past few years. Adding Fotu along with Kinlaw provides this for the Jets.

While he has a reputation for being a run stuffer, Fotu is not likely to be much of a difference maker in this area. The Cardinals had the league’s last placed run defense last season and were below average in his first three years.

However, he has shown some signs of development and is hopefully on the rise as he enters his prime. It’s worth noting that actually he’s still younger than Po’uha was when he was drafted, and obviously Po’uha was a late developer that became a crucial cog in an elite defense.

While our expectations perhaps shouldn’t be that Fotu can be as good as Po’uha, hopefully he should at least shore up the defensive line rotation and can make good contributions this year so the Jets will be compelled to bring him back for 2025 and beyond.

Go to Source
Title: Scouting Jets defensive tackle Leki Fotu
Author: Bent

You May Also Like