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Indianapolis Colts select UCLA EDGE Laiatu Latu with the 15th overall pick. Grade: A-

The only question at all I have about this pick is Latu’s medical history. If he’s clean through his NFL career, the Colts just got the best technical pass-rusher in this draft class by an absolutely crushing margin. I compared Latu to Raiders edge terror Maxx Crosby because he brings a combination of tools and athleticism that you don’t usually see in a guy coming out of college. Both the floor and ceiling are high here, and it’s an amazing get for Gus Bradley’s offense. 

Laiatu Latu’s collegiate career was medically complicated to the point where it’s kind of amazing that we’re now talking about him as a top prospect in any draft class. A four-star recruit out of Jesuit High School in Sacramento, California, Latu chose Washington over Alabama, Notre Dame and Tennessee. Things unfortunately went south quickly. Latu suffered a neck injury during practice in 2020 that eventually forced him to medically retire in the spring of 2021. A year after that, he saw a specialist (the same doctor who performed Peyton Manning’s neck surgery), and was cleared to play. Latu entered the transfer portal in 2021 and committed to Chip Kelly and UCLA.

In 2023, his second season with the Bruins, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound Latu had 15 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, 36 quarterback hurries, 33 stops, six tackles for loss, 33 forced fumbles, and four catches allowed on five targets for 19 yards, 12 yards after the catch, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 42.9. Latu got 42% of his pressures from the left defensive edge, 47% from the defensive right edge, 7% from defensive tackle positions, and 3% from nose tackle or nose shade.

PLUSES

— Primarily an edge defender, but can disrupt at nose shade and 3-tech in a standup or three-point position.

— Crosses the faces of blockers and jumps gaps with incredible quickness to drive to the pocket; it’s his fastball.

— Speed to and through the pocket is nightmare fuel for opposing blockers.

— Brings impressive speed-to-power from the edge; you had better do more than just chip him.

— Swipe move is a pure killer; brings a lot of strength in his hands.

— Can drop into flat and curl coverage, and has good eyes and hands to go after the ball.

— Was dominant more often than not at the Senior Bowl.

MINUSES

— Has an embryonic bull-rush and dip-and-rip potential, but he’ll want to round those out at the NFL level.

— His slow-play to disengage move might not be as effective against better NFL tackles.

— Can get caught watching the ball and will miss the action.

— Would like to see him become more violent with his hands in his initial strike as opposed to glancing off blockers.

Latu has as much of a plan as any pass-rusher in this class, and in an NCAA that all too often does not prepare its edge-rushers mechanically for the rigors of the NFL, that’s a big deal. His medical history may have some teams taking him off their boards completely, and while that’s understandable, it could lead to a lot of future regret if Latu is able to stay healthy and continue his development.

Story originally appeared on Touchdown Wire