Colts select edge rusher Latu with 15th pick

Apr. 25—INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts bucked the trend in Thursday's opening round of the NFL Draft, making UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu the first defensive player selected.

After a record 14 offensive players went off the board to open the evening, the Colts chose the first-team All-American to help bolster a pass rush that set an Indianapolis-era franchise record with 51 sacks last year.

Perhaps no one was more surprised by the selection than the pick himself.

"I wasn't even expecting to get picked up by the Colts, honestly," Latu said. "I didn't talk to them my whole pre-draft. And then that phone call came up from Indianapolis, and I was just like, 'Dang, my agent just told me don't worry about the next couple picks.' And then I get the call and I'm a Colt."

Latu won the Lombardi Trophy as the nation's best offensive or defensive lineman and the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end after recording 13 sacks and leading the country with 21.5 tackles for loss in 2023.

Latu suffered a neck injury while at Washington in 2021 and was not cleared by the Huskies' doctors. He transferred to UCLA the following season and recorded 23.5 sacks over two healthy seasons with the Bruins.

Indianapolis had the choice of any defensive player on the board, so it must be confident in his medical report.

Latu had cervical fusion surgery but never met with a doctor in person before being medically benched.

"At that time, it was COVID, and it was just a funky time, and it just wasn't handled in the right way," he said. "I didn't have any physical examinations with any doctor at that time, so really it was just an opinion of somebody's without even looking at my physical, without giving me a test and stuff like that. So I feel like they were just doing what they felt best, but at the same time I feel like it wasn't really handled in the best way."

Latu has been praised for his instinctive pass-rushing technique and creativity. His hands and use of angles are listed among his strengths, and he's been credited for a relentless on-field style.

Among the resume items that likely stood out to the Colts is the Lott IMPACT Award, handed out annually to a player who excels in integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community service and tenacity.

"I'm someone that can be comfortable in any uncomfortable situation," Latu said of his playing style. "That's how I look at pass rushing. I've got a bunch of moves in my repertoire. I have three main moves, but I make sure I dial down with a lot of moves because you never know what's gonna come out of you come game time. That muscle memory's just gonna kick in, and when you feel that uncomfortable feeling, your comfortability is gonna take over. That's me as a pass rusher."

The Colts have a strong group at the top of the edge rusher depth chart. But the team must soon make a decision on Kwity Paye's fifth-year option, and Dayo Odeyingbo is entering the final year of his rookie contract.

Latu likely will compete with those two players as well as veterans Samson Ebukam and Tyquan Lewis for a spot in the pass-rush rotation.

He knows Paye well after training with him during the draft process.

"Yesterday I had asked about his vitamin supplement plan, so he put me on that, and I just can't wait to get in the building," Latu said. "I look up to a lot of those dudes (on Indianapolis' defensive line), and I want to show them what I can do as well."

He added 49 tackles, two interceptions, two pass deflections and two forced fumbles last season with the Bruins and has been compared to Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt because of his on-field energy and effort.

Being the first defensive player selected is an honor that hit home for Latu.

"It means the world to me," he said, "and I just can't wait to get in the building and just prove that."