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Indianapolis Colts’ Laiatu Latu’s versatility sets him apart: film room

The Indianapolis Colts have selected the “best defensive player in the draft” with the 15th overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. UCLA’s Laiatu Latu was an unstoppable force at the college level, and the Colts hope his production can carry over to the NFL in year one.

General manager Chris Ballard has very high expectations for Latu out of the gate, calling the young player “a pretty polished product in terms of rushing.” The Colts aren’t going to slow down Latu’s development and they’re going to find ways to get him on the field from day one.

One of the main benefits of signing a player like Latu is the versatility he brings to a defensive unit. He has experience lining up on the defensive line, both as a passer and a run stopper, so the Colts will have plenty of options when it comes to getting him on the field as a recruit. One game I want to watch to prove this point is Latu’s performance against USC last season.

“You can put USC,” were Ballard’s exact words when discussing Latu during his post-draft press conference. Let’s dive into this USC performance to discuss the versatility Latu will bring to the Colts defensive front from day one.

The wide nine technique involves positioning a defensive end on the outside shoulder of the blocker farthest from the line of scrimmage (offensive tackle or tight end). This is a pure pass-rush position that allows the end to explode downhill from the snap. Latu will spend a lot of time at the wide nine this coming season in Indy, as the Colts deploy a system that features both defensive ends of the wide nine on obvious passes.

Latu’s ability as a finesse runner really shines from this defensive line position. His motor, polish, and overall hand usage make him a nightmare for offensive tackles to make on an island. Add in his high-end ability to bend and corner at 260 pounds and he’s sure to produce quite a bit for the Colts in the wide nine this upcoming season.

The Wide Nine technique is used primarily for small edge rushers who need to be kept clean and away from traffic off the edge. Latu, as a relatively taller edge player, has the versatility to move around the defensive line and also play more inside. The 4 technique is the defensive line position where the end is face up on top of the offensive tackle. This alignment becomes 4i when the defensive end shades the inside shoulder of the aforementioned offensive tackle.

Latu played a bit of that role last season for UCLA. He shows the ability to be a solid run defender from that interior position, while also dominating as a passer when given the opportunity to attack from that spot. He recorded a sack and a couple of run stops from that position against USC last season.

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The 3-technique is a defensive tackle alignment designed to rush the passer. The defensive tackle is aligned in space B between the tackle and guard with the responsibility of penetrating that space from the snap. This spot has been occupied by DeForest Buckner (on runs) and Dayo Odeyingbo (on passes) in recent seasons in Indy.

Latu also spent time at the 3-technique last season, switching to that defensive tackle role in some of UCLA’s 3-4 looks. His explosion combined with his quickness is too much for guards inside, and that added speed threat inside led to pressures on the UCLA defense last season.

A 2-man technique involves lining up the defensive tackle face up on top of the guard. Latu rarely went this far last year, but there were a few occasions where UCLA wanted to put its speed over a top-notch game.

Latu is able to put quick pressure on USC quarterback Caleb Williams with this standing run over the right guard on this play below.

The final alignment Latu had last season is the 1-technique. Technique 1 is a defensive alignment with a defensive tackle occupying space A between the center and the guard. This role is typically reserved for explosive, pass-spreading defensive tackles. Buckner usually shifts to this position on obvious passing plays with the Colts defense.

Latu filled that role in that pressure simulation package against USC last season. UCLA pretends to bring six rushers, but chooses to only have three rushing players on the left side of the offensive line. Latu is able to quickly beat the center from his standing position to put pressure on the play. The Colts had one of the highest six-man blitz percentages last season, so we could see Latu transition into this role at l opportunity as a rookie.

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard specifically highlighted Laiatu Latu’s film against USC in 2023 as one of the young passer’s best career games. Latu’s speed and fluidity are on full display in this outing, but he also demonstrated the versatility the Colts defense needs from their young passer.

Latu has shown the ability to effectively rush the passer from almost every position on the defensive line. This ability to impact the game from multiple roles should translate to the NFL from day one, and it will be one of the many reasons Latu sees the field quite a bit as a rookie. His film against USC, and frankly against the entire PAC-12, is why the Colts are so good on this young passer.

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