2024 NFL Draft Profile: UCLA's Laiatu Latu is the most polished pass rusher in the draft

A look at what makes UCLA's Laiatu Latu one of the top pass rushers in the 2024 NFL Draft.
 Laiatu Latu
Laiatu Latu / Michael Owens/GettyImages

One of the most productive players in college football the past two seasons has been UCLA’s Laiatu Latu who has an impressive 23.5 sacks over the past years. This ability to get after the passer also makes him one of the top 20 players in the 2024 NFL Draft.

Latu started his football career at Jesuit High School in Carmichael, California where he played both outside linebacker and tight end. He started to draw college interest after his junior season when he recorded 65 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. He followed that season up by having an even better senior year. In 2018 he had 94 tackles and 29.5 tackles for loss. This elite play on the field made him a four-star recruit according to ESPN and allowed him to earn offers from Washington, UCLA, Alabama, and several other Power Five schools

Latu decided to play his college ball at Washington and as a true freshman, he played in 12 of 13 games. Unfortunately, he had to miss the 2020 and 2021 seasons due to a neck injury which forced him to medically retire and end his time with the Huskies.

Laiatu Latu transcended his college football career at UCLA

In 2022 he transferred to UCLA where he was again cleared to play football. That season he was listed as a backup, but put up some of the best numbers in the PAC 12. He led the Bruins with both 12.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks on the year. His best game of the year came against Colorado where he got to the quarterback three times and finished with a total of 3.5 tackles for loss. For his effort against the Buffalos, he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week. This was quite the season for someone who missed the last two years due to his neck injury and allowed him to be named the College Football Comeback Player of the Year.

This past season Latu became the first Bruin to win the Lombardi Award and the Ted Hendricks Award. This came after he led the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.8), and finished fourth nationally in sacks per game (1.08). He also had his best game of the year again against Colorado where he recorded three sacks for the second straight season.

After the 2023 season, Latu attended the Senior Bowl, where he again proved he is one of the top defensive players in the 2024 NFL Draft. He impressed scouts with his how well-refined he was as a pass rusher and his overall love of the game. Look for Latu to continue to impress teams next week at the NFL Combine.

2024 NFL Draft: Laiatu Latu's strengths and weaknesses

When looking at his NFL traits the first thing that stands out is his ability to get to the passer. He has a variety of pass-rushing moves, including a spin move and swim move that were extremely hard for college offensive tackles to block. He also does a terrific job of turning speed to power as a pass rusher which has helped him account for 23.5 sacks over the past two years.

"For all these young guys, a lot of times you don’t see that. So it’s fairly rare. He’s a guy that can beat you with his physical skill but more often he’s going to beat you with his pass rush skill. To me, those are the guys that really thrive at the next level."

Senior Bowl coach Jeff Ulbrich on Latu

While Latu is one of the better pass rushers in the 2024 NFL Draft, he also holds up well against the run. In this area, his high football IQ shows up again. He does a terrific job of diagnosing blocks and consistently gets leverage on offensive tackles who are trying to reach block him. He also displays the ability to consistently disengage from blocks due to his strong hands and overall fundamentally sound play.

The biggest red flag with Latu will be the neck injury he suffered at Washington. While he has not missed a game in two years at UCLA, teams will want to make sure there are no lasting effects of this injury. If he checks out well in this area he is all but guaranteed to be a first-round pick.

The other area that could make players like Alabama’s Dallas Turner go ahead of him is a lack of elite measurables. While he has a good first step off the ball, he will most likely not post better testing numbers than a player like Turner or Penn State’s Chop Robinson does. However, smart NFL teams should overlook this and still make him the top outside linebacker drafted due to his love of the game, elite production, and high football IQ.

One team that could be a good fit for Latu is the Chicago Bears. This selection would be a good pick for Chicago because the team needs to find someone who can play opposit of Montez Sweat. A couple of other teams that would make sense for the UCLA pass rusher are the Atlanta Falcons, Philidelphia Eagles, and Houston Texans.