Isaiah Pola-Mao, USC S | NFL Draft Scouting Report

USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao heads to the NFL Draft as a well-credentialed safety prospect, but does his scouting report reveal pro potential?

NFL Draft prospects don’t come much more well-credentialed than USC safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. A prestigious high school talent, playing at one of the premier college football programs, and related to a Pro Football Hall of Famer, Pola-Mao has a rich football pedigree. However, his scouting report reveals that he’s far more than just a product of his circumstances.

Isaiah Pola-Mao NFL Draft Profile

  • Position: Safety
  • School: USC
  • Current Year: Redshirt-Senior
  • Height: 6’4″
  • Weight: 205 pounds

Isaiah Pola-Mao Scouting Report

USC has a couple of prospects who have received the first-round discussion in this 2022 NFL Draft class. Wide receiver Drake London is an uncommon pass-catching threat, and in quarterback Kedon Slovis, there’s undeniable talent hidden under a murky, injury-addled career. Regardless of where they eventually are selected, they’re being discussed. They’re in the conversation.

The same can’t be said about Pola-Mao, who hasn’t received the same amount of NFL Draft attention as his two teammates. However, his scouting report should firmly ensure that he’s in the conversation as a potential top-100 player in the class.

Forget everything you might have been told — size does matter. Thankfully for Pola-Mao, he possesses ridiculous size at the safety position. At 6’4″ and 205 pounds, he’s a rangy player who can put his height to devastating use in coverage. As well as being tall, the USC safety has incredible length. In addition to patrolling the secondary in coverage, Pola-Mao’s length allows him to effectively wrap up as a tackler. 

Versatility is next to ability as a critical factor at the next level. The USC safety ticks the box in this regard too. He’s seen reps at single-high and split-field safety. Furthermore, he’s covered tight ends out the slot position and been used as an overhang defender. Pola-Mao’s seen almost an equal workload in the box as he has covering deep. 

Athletic traits and high character 

Pola-Mao flashes some attractive athletic traits. He has enough range to cover the deep third, moving fluidly in the open field and transitioning seamlessly out of his backpedal. The USC safety has demonstrated terrifying closing speed, barreling down on his target in the blink of an eye. When he arrives, he’s more than capable of laying the wood with hits that make you wince even watching them on a TV screen thousands of miles away.

Although he isn’t super twitchy, he possesses enough change-of-direction ability to prove effective in man coverage. Meanwhile, his football intelligence ensures he reads and reacts well in zone coverage. 

Finally, as a team captain in 2020, Pola-Moa demonstrates leadership on the field. People who have been around him rave about his character and off-field leadership. His former assistant coach at Mountain Pointe, Aaron Frana, said this at the time of his commitment to USC:

“He’s a high character guy. He leads on and off the field. All the other kids look up to him.”

Areas for improvement

Although there is a lot to love from Pola-Mao’s scouting report, there is room for improvement. Furthermore, there is reason to be cautious about the USC safety’s projection to the NFL level.

While he possesses ridiculous size at 6’4″, he’s a little on the light side. If Pola-Mao is to be as physical at the NFL level as he has demonstrated at USC, he could seek to add more muscle mass. Thankfully, he has the frame to achieve this, although it would need to be without losing any athletic ability. 

Despite impressive reps of wrapping up as a tackler, there’s room for improvement here too. Pola-Mao can be overzealous in his approach, which can result in him whiffing on some tackles. He also needs to be mindful of taking the correct angles for the same reason.

Although not an area for improvement, there could be a red flag from the NFL due to his injury history. Two shoulder surgeries in as many years are troubling when your game is predicated on smashing into your opponent shoulder first. 

Isaiah Pola-Mao Player Player Profile

Football is family. The NFL’s slogan is alive and well in the Pola-Mao lineage as Isaiah crafts his path to the NFL Draft. His father, Tracey, was a team captain for San Diego State. His brother, Matthew, plays for Arizona State. Kennedy Polamalu, his great uncle, was a fullback at USC and is currently an assistant coach at the Minnesota Vikings.

Yes, you read that correctly, Polamalu. Pola-Mao’s uncle is Troy Polamalu, a hard-hitting safety for USC before becoming a Hall of Famer at the position for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With a family of talented athletes, it was almost inevitable that Pola-Mao would be a sporting success. Far from just a footballer, he excelled at basketball, long jump, sprints, hurdles, and high jump at the high school level.

However, an obscene stat sheet and a litany of awards attest to how talented Pola-Mao was on the Mountain Pointe High School football field. Even as a sophomore, the imposing playmaker secured 7 interceptions. Through his three seasons, he amassed 21 interceptions, over 200 tackles, and 4 forced fumbles, earning first-team All-Arizona in each season.

He put his ball skills to devastating use on both sides of the ball, snagging 16 touchdowns as a receiver. While his four-star ranking and pursuit by multiple Power Five programs demonstrated collegiate interest, Pola-Mao’s former coach — Norris Vaughan — didn’t think he was adequately rated.

“I thought he was the best player in the state,” he told reporters at the time of the young safety’s commitment to USC.

Pola-Mao’s career at USC

With his uncle’s history with the Trojans, there’s the assumption that there was an inevitability about Pola-Mao heading to USC. Despite this, he’d favored Arizona State before taking the final visit to Los Angeles that decided his destination.

“When I was there, it just felt at home. I knew that was where I was supposed to be.”

Although he felt at home, it was a difficult start to his USC career. During his commitment, Pola-Mao had talked about making an immediate impact on the program. He wanted to start as a freshman. However, shoulder surgery on an injury sustained during the 6A State Championship Game ruled him out for the entire season.

Pola-Mao gave USC fans a glimpse of his game-wrecking talent on the opening day of the 2018 season. Making his debut against UNLV, Pola-Mao forced a fumble on the opening drive of the game. With 7 tackles and the forced fumble, he’d arrived. The joy, unfortunately, was short-lived. In the next game against Stanford, the USC safety dislocated his shoulder and was done for the year.

From the tragedy of injury comes triumph on the field

Pola-Mao asserted himself as a pivotal part of the USC secondary through the 2019 and 2020 college football seasons. He registered 73 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a team-high 4 interceptions as a redshirt sophomore. With picks against Oregon, Arizona State, and California, he became the first Trojan to record an interception in three consecutive games since 1998.

In a shortened redshirt junior campaign, Pola-Mao started all six games. The USC safety led the team in pass breakups, finished third with 40 tackles, and added another interception to his résumé. Meanwhile, he earned second-team All-Pac 12 honors from the Associated Press.

Although he could have headed to the NFL Draft at the end of the season with compatriots Talanoa Hufanga and Olaijah Griffin in the secondary, the USC safety opted to return to The Coliseum for his redshirt senior season. However, a pivotal season for Pola-Mao’s NFL Draft stock has been as turbulent as the program he plays for, missing the season opener due to health and safety protocols.

Nevertheless, Pola-Mao is one of the top players at his position in the 2022 NFL Draft class. Although he won’t be a first-round selection like his Uncle Troy, a solid season could see him land as high as Day 2.

Oliver Hodgkinson is an NFL Draft and College Football Analyst for Pro Football Network. Check out the rest of his work here, and you can find him on Twitter @ojhodgkinson.

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