Is this potentially elite EDGE prospect being overlooked?

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PFF’s Sam Monson argues that UCLA’s Laiatu Latu is an elite EDGE defender in 2024 draft

It’s no secret that the Los Angeles Rams’ greatest need coming into the 2024 NFL Draft is edge defender, and it’s possible that they are the perfect fit for what seems to be both an overlooked and potentially elite prospect. UCLA’s Laiatu Latu has both the pass rushing production and athleticism to round out a draft profile with shades of Chase Young and Joey Bosa.

Pro Football Focus (PFF)’s Sam Monson laid out the case for why Latu should be considered the best edge defender in this year’s draft. Monson compared teams’ contemplation of Latu—seen as a limited, potentially maxed-out prospect—versus other individuals with a higher athletic ceiling but less production at the college level, such as Dallas Turner and Jared Verse, to Travon Walker being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2022 over Aidan Hutchinson.

Two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars passed up a demonstrably better player in Aidan Hutchinson to chase the upside in Travon Walker, who was literally the greatest athlete the game has ever seen at the position. By every conceivable measure, Hutchinson was the better player at the time, but Walker’s theoretical upside and potential, set by the fact that he had the greatest measurables composite of any edge rusher in history, was what captivated the Jaguars into spending the No. 1 overall pick on him.

Something similar seems to be playing out this year between the top edge rushers, at least in terms of narrative. Alabama’s Dallas Turner had outstanding workouts and is clearly an awesome athlete, and that has framed UCLA’s Laiatu Latu as the “limited” potential player by comparison.

The problem is, that wildly undervalues Latu.

It seems the NFL does this song and dance nearly every year with edge rushers, and perhaps in 2024 that could allow a potentially elite prospect like Latu to fall to pick #19 for the Rams to fill the single-biggest need across their roster. Latu would be an immediate upgrade over Michael Hoecht and provide a formidable tandem with Byron Young.

We’ve seen the Rams have success with leveraging GPS and advanced data to identify prospects with less than ideal athletic testing that played fast on the football field. PFF’s newest metric, the game athleticism score (GAS) put Latu at the 97th percentile in 2022 and then 99th percentile in 2023.

This GAS metric also helps alleviate one of the most significant concerns in Latu’s draft profile—a serious neck injury in 2021 that caused many to wonder if he’d every play football again:

For two years, it seemed like he had played his last down of football. Latu was medically retired from football at Washington after a preseason neck injury in 2020…

Latu needed surgery after a neck injury suffered during preseason practice in 2020, which resulted in a medical retirement and two years off the field. He transferred to UCLA in January 2022 and was cleared by doctors to resume playing.

With this being a unique draft class with top talent at quarterback, receiver, and offensive tackle, it could be a while before we see a defensive player come off the board. Dallas Turner seems to be the consensus top edge rusher and defensive player in this draft, though Latu should have a strong argument after being one of the most productive pass rushers and solidifying himself as an elite athlete.

Will Laiatu Latu be available when the Rams are on the clock at #19 overall?

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Title: Is this potentially elite EDGE prospect being overlooked?
Author: JB Scott

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