clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2015 NFL Draft Prospects: Washington DE/OLB Hau'oli Kikaha

Teams interested in the Washington pass-rushing whiz in this year's draft are going to have to ask themselves if they are willing to live with a lack of size and struggles in coverage in order to add an advanced technical pass rusher.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Speed, strength and size are core elements of a pass rushing prospect. Technically, hand placement and ability to bend the arc (referring to a player's ability to stay strong while being pushed around the pocket) are also key traits scouts will look for in a prospect.

Washington defensive end/outside linebacker Hau'oli Kikaha lacks size and doesn't play particularly strong, but he has many other qualities that make him an intriguing player. His unique background in mixed martial arts, Judo and wrestling give him an advanced understanding of hand usage. Add to that skill set his natural athleticism and relentless motor, and you have an an interesting pass rusher to watch heading toward April.

If Steelers OLB James Harrison is a mauler, Kikaha is more of a speed rusher. Harrison made his mark in the NFL and with the Steelers through a tenacious pass rush and an excellent bend around the arc. Take away the power and strength - something Harrison developed for several years before making an impact in the NFL in 2007 - but keep what seems like an advanced awareness of technique, you'll see some of Kikaha. In this play this past season against Hawaii, Kikaha moves outside the left tackle by knocking his hands down and ripping upward to keep the blocker's hands off him. His depth draws the running back over to provide help. He gets deep in his rush, and pushes the pocket forward. This leads to the Huskies' sack, but also watch him spin back to the inside away from the running back and accelerate toward the passer. He may not have gotten the sack, but he clearly got the quarterback and the protection scheme paying attention to him. That kind of speed and the depths at which he reached before his initial burst was stopped raises an eyebrow.

It's not always just about that Harrison-like power on the edge. Timing and precision are important as well. If Kikaha isn't a brawler, he's a tactician. Either way, he's fighting. To use a boxing metaphor, watch his left arm deliver a smooth, effective jab to keep the tackle off his body before the tackle has a chance to drive him around the arc as they try to set up a middle screen. He throws his right arm down and clears his route to the passer, destroying the play. It's a quick strike, one that isn't going to knock the tackle back, but he's using his arms as potent, if not dangerous, weapons. The less a tackle can get inside the rusher, the more able the rusher is going to be to find the ball. And when they have to reach to get him, he knows how, again, to use his hands to keep his path straight. The tackle is at a disadvantage from the start, but has a chance to make a late push on Kikaha to force him out of the pocket. Kikaha swats his hand down, putting no power into his shove at all. Even better, Kikaha has the opportunity to completely destroy the quarterback, but he's looking at the ball the whole way. Explosive plays like this are why he's being mentioned as a potential second day pick. Size issues will be a concern for scouts evaluating Kikaha, but so will his stiffness in coverage. Clips like this present something of a negative for him as a three-down outside linebacker. He drops to where he should be in his middle zone, but when he sees the receiver breaking across the middle, he takes a bit longer than what's ideal to move along with him. While he's ultimately keeping the receiver in front of him as he's leaving his zone, it was probably the easiest throw and catch Illinois had all game. It's not a technique issue, but the amount of time it took Kikaha to change direction again and accelerate is what scouts refer to as "stiffness." It's difficult to overcome that as a player. A pure pass rusher, certainly among the best at the art of pass rush in this draft, but limitations against the run and in pass coverage will likely be the reasons he falls out of the first round. If he's too one-dimensional for the first 57 picks in the draft, it wouldn't be a surprise if the Steelers take a long, hard look at the pass rush ace from Washington.