The 2023 NFL Draft provides a clean slate at the tight end position, something Alabama TE Cameron Latu may look to take advantage of with his scouting report. Suddenly firmly on the radar after a stellar 2021 campaign, where does Latu fit in what should be a much deeper, more intriguing tight end class?
Cameron Latu NFL draft profile
Latu actually started his career as an edge rusher — a very good one at that. He was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2017. As a senior at Olympus High School, Latu put up 43 tackles, six sacks, and 11 tackles for loss.
Latu’s performance put him on the radar of some of the top schools in the nation. Naturally, Alabama was in the thick of that conversation. Latu ultimately chose Alabama over a bevy of other Power Five schools and entered the team’s deep EDGE rotation as a true freshman in 2018.
As talented as he was at EDGE, Latu barely played at the position for Alabama. His future instead lay on the other side of the ball. Latu transitioned to TE after redshirting the 2018 campaign. He was a depth TE through 2019 and 2020, with zero catches to his name. And as the 2022 NFL Draft cycle began, he was overshadowed by Jahleel Billingsley.
In 2021, however, when Billingsley underwhelmed, Latu answered the call and emerged as a true threat at tight end. He caught 26 passes for 410 yards in a breakout season and broke the single-season record for touchdowns by an Alabama TE with eight.
Entering the 2023 NFL Draft cycle, Latu is now the top dog in Alabama’s TE room. Having reached unanticipated heights in 2021, he now looks to take another step up.
- Position: Tight End
- School: Alabama
- Current Year: Redshirt Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’5″, 244 pounds
Cameron Latu scouting report
At times, the expectations placed on Billingsley ahead of the 2021 campaign blotted out the success that Latu had in his place. Looking back, however, it’s time to give Latu the respect he deserves and evaluate his viability as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect.
Athletically, Latu has truly rare ability for a tight end. He’s a supremely explosive athlete who accelerates incredibly quickly when triggering on plays or blocks. He can instantly gear up off the line and pressure defenders heading up to stems. Beyond his linear explosiveness, he also shows off the ability to seamlessly employ curvilinear acceleration on rounded breaks to maintain speed through direction changes. Latu can rapidly explode out of breaks, and he sustains curvilinear acceleration with efficiency.
Not only is Latu a natural athlete, but he’s also a natural receiving threat. The Alabama TE can make adjustments beyond his frame with little response time, using the diamond hand technique to secure passes. He also tracks the ball fairly well in the heat of the moment and can corral high passes with ease. Furthermore, Latu has smooth body control when the ball comes his way in congested situations.
Latu snares the ball with strong hands once it enters his reach, and he’s a consistent hands-catcher who actively seeks out the ball. The Alabama TE can secure passes over the middle of the field, even when threatened with immediate contact. There are lapses at times, but overall, Latu is a tough pass catcher who can hold his own in contact situations.
Expanding on Latu’s strengths, the Alabama TE also brings great promise as a route runner — promise which stems from his athletic gifts. Latu shows off a degree of lateral suddenness at stems and can use that amped-up energy to generate displacement. He’s an excitingly twitchy athlete for his size who can stop with rare suddenness at stems, halting his momentum instantly after accelerating.
Latu is a flexible, high-energy prospect who can stack quick direction changes to manipulate leverage at stems. But beyond that, he also has loose hips very natural hip sink, and can sustain acceleration effectively through transitions. He’s a smooth lateral mover who can stack cuts to get defenders off-balance and open space at stems. Latu’s exciting mix of quickness and throttle control helps him immensely in this phase, as well as others.
Expanding on his route running, Latu has impressive stopping ability and natural hip sink. He can quickly halt his momentum and dip his hips on breaks, pinching tight angles. Going further, he often actively presses upfield at stems and can create extra cushion by feigning vertical routes. Latu uses his head to feign intent and doesn’t tip off defenders by flipping around too early. At stems, he can scrape away defenders with brisk arm swipes, using targeted bouts of physicality to compound separation.
Also impressive is Latu’s understanding of leverage as a route runner. He can use attack angles to get DBs off-center at stems, then break inside. He knows how to leverage defenders to create space for himself. Moreover, Latu employs efficient footwork at stems. He can plant and drive with impressive suddenness and burst. And at the line, he can use quick jab steps to gain displacement and capitalize with his explosive capacity. He also has the awareness to flow into open zones after executing his break.
Latu is still improving as a blocker, but he already provides good utility there as well. The Alabama TE is an urgent, combative blocker with an uber-physical mentality. He carries burst into contact, which he can use to generate force. He also has active feet and hands in pass protection. Latu can square up rushers and latch in-phase, target opposing moves, and swiftly reset his hands to drive defenders back.
Latu can absorb and redirect blocks with his frame and change-of-direction ability. Additionally, he can use his corrective twitch to adjust his positioning when needed. While he doesn’t have elite strength, Latu can rip down blockers with surprising upper-body torque and aggression. And much like his route running, he understands leverage as a lead blocker. He can use his explosiveness to get around formations and attain proper angles before engaging.
Among other things, Latu appears to have good long speed. The Alabama TE gears up quickly and can carry his speed in space with long strides. He has the versatility to line up in-line, at H-back, in the slot, or on the boundary. And in space, he can step through arm tackles with modest proficiency.
Latu’s areas for improvement
Latu has a strong, lean frame, but is a bit underweight. He also has below-average length, as well as a middling wingspan. That middling wingspan naturally limits his catch radius. While he’s not a liability there, it can impact him against longer, stronger defenders.
Going further, Latu can have better sideline awareness at times. He occasionally lets his feet loom out of bounds on boundary attempts. He’ll also occasionally bobble pass attempts with his hands, and he can improve his hand/eye coordination and ball tracking.
As a route runner, Latu occasionally has his pads too high leading up to stems, which can limit his deceptive capacity. He can also be more consistent in channeling his explosiveness out of breaks. Moreover, Latu takes too many steps when decelerating at times.
As a blocker, Latu’s lighter frame can be easier to direct. His hands can be too wide, which impacts his ability to control blocks, and allows defenders to get inside his torso. He lacks quantifiably elite play strength and can’t always sustain blocks or positioning. In space, he sometimes overshoots angles as a pulling blocker, and he can take better angles when stacking blocks to the second level.
Current draft projection for Alabama TE Cameron Latu
Last summer, it was Billingsley who was penciled in as the next early-round Alabama TE. We had the right school and the right position, but we didn’t have the right player. In Billingsley’s place, Latu emerged as a worthy early-round TE prospect. He has early-to-mid Day 2 potential and could be one of the first TEs off the board in the 2023 NFL Draft.
It’s important not to helmet scout. And that can be an easy thing to do for Alabama prospects. But watching Latu on tape, it’s clear that, diagnostically, he is worthy of being in the early-round conversation. Latu is already a fairly natural receiving threat and a venerable blocker. His former EDGE background shows up in all the right ways. He’s explosive, agile, and he also has the rare ability to employ curvilinear acceleration at breaks.
Latu will need to keep getting stronger, and he doesn’t have the longest frame. He also has room to keep refining his skill set as a pass catcher. Those may be deflating factors in his ultimate ceiling computation. But Latu isn’t a liability in any of those areas, and his high-level athleticism translates both before and after the catch. And his steely toughness permeates into all facets of his game.
With his multi-phase appeal, Latu can lock himself into the Day 2 conversation, provided he has another good year. And he has the traits to have a productive NFL career, either by growing into a true TE1 role or serving as a very good TE2.