Thursday, February 12, 2015

2015 NFL Draft #19 - Hau'oli Kikaha, LB, Washington

I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
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Hau'oli Kikaha, LB, Washington - 6'3, 248 - RS Senior
Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion (4) is sacked by Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha in the first of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Today, we look at one of the players that is the focal point of the entire draft process.  Each spring, there are a few players who cause polarizing opinions and debates for the several months between the bowl games and the NFL draft.  Hau'oli Kikaha is one of them.  Think about this, well-meaning draft analysts have all considered his abilities and while some have him in the 1st round, others have him not getting drafted at all.  That is pretty odd to have that wide of a range of possibilities for a player who led the nation in sacks in 2014 and finished 4th in the same category in 2013.  To consider his pros and cons, we examined the Stanford, California, and Illinois games from this past season.

What I liked:  Let's start here - He has played in 27 games in the last 2 seasons and accumulated 32 sacks and 40.5 tackles for loss.  Those 72.5 explosive plays are so productive in 2 seasons in a major conference it makes one take notice of what he is capable of.  He causes chaos behind the line of scrimmage on a regular and routine basis.  Clearly, he fits best as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense, but he can also play a defensive end in a 4-3 - provided it is generally in passing situations.  He is a very competitive player who does not give up if his first move does not work.  His work rate is exceptional and again, he is just so productive in making plays and showing up that it would be foolish to discount those items.  High RPMs. He also drops into coverage on a routine basis and while he is best in the short zones, he demonstrates at least an average ability when asked to chase in man.  He seems to have a pretty decent array of skills that can be used.
What I did not like:  Here is where the debates start raging on.  He missed nearly all of 2011 and all of 2012 with ACL injuries to his left knee on separate occasions.  This is the first hurdle he must jump over this spring as medical examinations will be a major part of his process.  Then, when you watch him play, it is clear that his skills are best served going forward, but to be an elite edge linebacker in a 3-4, you better be able to run, plant, and change direction at a high speed as well.  It seems that is where he gets caught up in his ability to dominate in space against the grain.  His 40 time will be key at the combine, because he doesn't look as fast or as explosive as some of his counterparts.  As for other concerns, it seems he might not hold up well against the run if you try to play him at DE and therefore his scheme destination is going to be key.  He may not be a guy who can play ever down and therefore, if you add his limited role to his questionable medical history, now you see why people are trying to figure out where he fits in this big conversation.
Summary:  In the end, I want to see production.  When I popped on any game, there were things both good and bad, but there was always an explosive play or three where he is causing a negative moment for an opponent that generally stopped the drive.  He gets to the QB very well, although it should be pointed out that when facing the 1st round prospect LT from Stanford, Andrus Peat, he was pretty quiet.  He accomplished his plays against their RT.  It is also said that he benefited from playing with Danny Shelton, Shaq Thompson, and at times, Marcus Peters (3 other Huskies that could go very high in the draft), but my answer to that is that they benefited, too, from playing with him.  He needs to go to a 3-4 team, but from there, I don't see why he can't keep causing chaos at the NFL level by finding your sacks on passing downs.  What currency counts for more for a defensive player in this current era?  I think he will be fine at the next level.  2nd round?  His spring will tell the story.

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