2024 Atlanta Falcons Potential Draft Pick Profile: EDGE Laiatu Latu

Could Laiatu Latu be the Falcons own version of Robert Quinn?

UCLA v USC
UCLA v USC / Ric Tapia/GettyImages
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When looking for pass rushers, it's tough to ignore someone with the talent level of Laiatu Latu. But the Atlanta Falcons should be cautious with him because of some medical red flags that will pop up. Atlanta's coaching does have some experience with him as a player, as he was coached by new Falcons defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake while at Washington. Latu instantly would know his role and responsibilities for the Falcons and could be a seamless transition.

Laiatu Latu

University of California - Los Angeles

Edge Defender


Athletic Comparison and Numbers

Laiatu Latu is an above-average athlete, but he's not standing out on the page because of his athleticism. His film is excellent, and he's much more of a technician. Teams will love him because he does have the requisite thresholds on tests like 3-cone and shuttle to suggest that he could be a standout, but the first step that shows up on film didn't show up as much at the combine. There are questions about whether the injuries he suffered hurt some the athleticism he showed as a freshman.


Stats and Awards

2023: 12 Games Played, 49 Tackles, 21.5 Tackles for Loss, 13.0 Sacks, 10 QB Hurries, 2 Interceptions, 2 Fumbles Forced, 2 Pass Deflections, Lombardi Award winner, Ted Hendricks Award winner, Polynesian Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-Pac 12, Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year, First-Team All-American, Bednarik Finalist, Lott IMPACT Finalist
2022: 13 Games Played, 36 Tackles, 12.5 Tackles for Loss, 10.5 Sacks, 9 QB Hurries, 3 Fumbles Forced, 1 Pass Deflection, First-Team All-Pac 12, College Football Comeback Player of the Year,
Transferred from Washington to UCLA between the 2021 and 2022 seasons
2021: Redshirted due to spinal injury
2020: Redshirted due to spinal injury
2019: 12 Games Played, 16 Tackles, 1.5 Tackles for Loss, 0.5 Sacks, 1 Pass Deflection


Highlight Reel


Scouting Report

Strengths

Arnold Ebiketie called himself "Dr. Pass Rush" when he was coming out of college, but the true Dr. Pass Rush might as well be Laiatu Latu. He has so many different pass rush moves, it's insanity. Latu's hand usage looks like that of a boxer or a wrestler when he's trying to figure out the best way to get around offensive tackles. He can rush from all over the formation too. Align him inside on guards, inside pressure. Align him against tackles, outside pressure. Align him dead over the center, instant double team to open up other guys.

Latu has a masterful bull-rush that knocks offensive linemen back when he's using his leverage properly, and his abilities against the run when facing tight ends or fullbacks give him a chance to play a weak-side or strong-side edge defender at the next level with high proficiency. The football IQ that Latu has stems from cross-training with Rugby as well as just general football knowledge. Teams will love Latu's all-around game and ability to be an impact guy right away.

Weaknesses

Latu's biggest weaknesses come from medical concerns that need to be evaluated, but that will be covered later. He doesn't have many technical weaknesses, but his leverage does seem to be an issue at times. There are times he gets bullied in the run game and needs to develop a better edge setting repertoire. Athleticism as a whole is very average and he's not someone who should be out there in coverage much, if at all. Teams will try to avoid him playing too many run snaps early because of his need to gain better run-game technique.


Intangibles & Off-Field Red Flags

It's obvious on film just how hard of a worker that Laiatu Latu is on and off the field. He was praised by UCLA head coach Chip Kelly when Latu was there for his unstoppable work ethic and athletic instincts. Latu keeps clean off the field as well, but the only real red flag is Latu's medicals. His neck injury was so bad at one point, the Washington Huskies medical staff wouldn't clear him and said he should have medically retired from the sport. If his medicals are clean at this point, it becomes a non-issue, but it is possible that the neck injury did hurt his long-term potential.

NFL Stylistic Comparison: Robert Quinn 

While Latu has the ability to create some massive peaks, it's more likely he's a reliable pass rusher who ends up being a solid all-around edge defender who gets a handful of sacks every year in between those peaks. He's a great fit for a lot of different teams, but he's very scheme specific as a 3-4 outside linebacker and likely shouldn't play in a 4-3. However, the same could have been said for Will Anderson, and Anderson was a fantastic 4-3 defensive end for the Texans.


How does he fit in with the Atlanta Falcons

If the Falcons want to get Laiatu Latu, they could easily get him at No. 8 overall in the draft, but they could easily trade down and get him in the middle of the first round. There might even be a situation where the Falcons can go cornerback with their first pick and trade back up into the back end of the first round and take Latu if he's slipping. Injury concerns for some teams will drop Latu further than he probably should end up dropping.

Latu instantly upgrades the weak-side edge defender role and would allow Lorenzo Carter to play more of a rotational backup role with DeAngelo Malone. Arnold Ebiketie is the likely starter at strong-side edge defender and would benefit from the additional pass rush help from the weak-side. Latu may never be the sack-master that some are predicting him to be, but he should be an all-around solid defender against both the pass and the run and upgrade a unit Atlanta needs upgrading.

All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats. All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.