Packers get UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu in new Mel Kiper Jr. mock draft

Mel Kiper Jr.’s new mock draft for ESPN has the Green Bay Packers getting UCLA edge rusher Laiatu Latu at No. 25 overall in the first round of the 2024 draft.

Kiper considered giving the Packers an offensive tackle but instead settled on Latu, who he said has “elite pass-rushing skills” with double-digit sack potential at the next level. The one problem? Latu has a big medical red flag in his draft profile.

From Kiper:

Latu put up 111 quarterback pressures over the past two seasons, racking up 23.5 sacks. He has elite pass-rushing skills and is already advanced in his technique. The reason he’s not a surefire top-15 pick is because he has some medical questions; he medically retired from football due to a neck injury when he was at Washington in 2021. I love his fit with the Packers, though.

If the Packers can get comfortable with Latu’s medicals, the pick could be a slam dunk. Latu is 6-5 and 259 pounds with a Relative Athletic Score of 9.30. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive pass-rusher in college football over the last two seasons, including a 61-pressure season in 2023. He had elite marks in pass-rush win rate and pass-rush grade.

Lance Zierlein of compared Latu to T.J. Watt. The talent is undeniable, and top pass-rushers don’t usually get to the bottom half of the first round. The medical red flag would be the only reason he’s still available for the Packers at No. 25.

The Packers don’t have a big need at edge rusher, but the defense is transitioning to a 4-3 front, Preston Smith is likely entering his final season in Green Bay and Kingsley Enagbare could miss a big chunk of the season while recovering from a knee injury. At the very least, Latu could develop as a fourth rusher behind Smith, Rashan Gary and Lukas Van Ness in 2024 before expanding his role in Year 2.

Great defenses have great rushers. And great rushers can transform a defense.

Think back to 2009. The Packers were moving to a 3-4 front under Dom Capers. Ted Thompson picked Clay Matthews late in the first round, and the defense went from good to great.

Could Latu be a similar type of addition for Jeff Hafley?

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire