In 2020, Isaiah Simmons comfortably kept the draft’s LB1 mantle. In 2021, Micah Parsons’ status at the top never wavered. Unlike those years, the 2022 NFL Draft has no clear-cut leader at linebacker, and USC LB Kana’i Mauga might be able to benefit from that if his scouting report holds up against scrutiny. Does Mauga deserve more buzz, or does he need to do more to rise in 2021?
Kana’i Mauga NFL Draft Profile
- Position: Linebacker
- School: USC
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’2″
- Weight: 245 pounds
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Kana’i Mauga Scouting Report
There was a time when the Trojans were known for their linebacker development. In one year (2009), they dominated the position. Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews were first-round selections, and tackling machine Rey Maualuga wasn’t far behind in Round 2. Before that, they’d produced standouts like Chris Claiborne, Keith Rivers, and three-time Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu.
As the saying goes — a saying particularly fitting for Trojans, historically — “oh, how the mighty have fallen.” Since 2010, only six Trojan linebackers have been drafted. Two of those players — Devon Kennard and Uchenna Nwosu — are primarily edge rushers. The most recent decade wasn’t nearly as productive for USC on the second level. Can Mauga help kickstart the next one on a positive note?
Kana’i Mauga’s athletic profile
There is upside present with Mauga. It’s just a matter of how much the USC LB can unlock. Standing at around 6’2″, 245 pounds, Mauga certainly looks the part. He has a dense frame and a strong base, with above-average proportional length.
Mauga’s frame carries a great deal of momentum into the contact point, and his compact lower body allows him to stand his ground when clogging gaps. Additionally, his frame density makes it difficult even for linemen to him down.
On top of his size, Mauga also has an intriguing athletic skill set. The USC LB has, at times, displayed impressive explosiveness out of his stance. When he’s confident in what he sees, he plays extremely fast, and his explosiveness can be lethal for running backs on the backside.
With his burst, Mauga can break into the backfield in an instant. He also has good torso flexibility, which he uses in conjunction with his burst to slice past linemen and block off carries. Mauga’s explosiveness is the most prevalent positive athletic trait in his arsenal, but the praise doesn’t stop there.
He’s flashed several exciting traits, including urgency, twitch, and lateral quickness. The issue with these traits revolves more around repetition. As we’ll get into later, Mauga’s athleticism remains somewhat ambiguous because of a lack of consistency.
Execution beyond the athletic traits
Even if Mauga doesn’t win over scouts with his all-around testing, the USC LB still has a few redeeming intangible traits. Most notably, Mauga is a high-effort player whose energy carries through the entire rep. He generally has gap discipline and consistently occupies space and blockers for teammates.
In the box, Mauga is most proficient. The Trojans’ defender keeps his shoulders square when hovering behind congestion, and he’s able to reset his feet quickly when scanning between the hashes. His explosiveness allows him to shoot through gaps before being touched. However, when contact is unavoidable, Mauga has shown the ability to use combative hands to disengage blockers.
Among other things, Mauga has flashed the athleticism necessary to cover tight ends in the short and intermediate ranges. Additionally, he has some versatility. Mauga has experience rushing the passer from different locations, and he can also fill in at different spots on the second level. Particularly in 2019, Mauga rotated between MIKE and OLB quite a bit.
Areas for improvement
There’s enough on Mauga’s tape to keep his name in the memory banks. Still, he has a lot of work to do in 2021.
The most crucial flaw for Mauga might be his tackling. He is inconsistent here, to say the least. Mauga whiffs more often than desired for a player of his size. He can lose his balance at the contact point, thereby forfeiting his leverage. He also struggles to wrap up in momentum-neutral situations, and his angles heading into the contact point need work.
Execution is a problem, but Mauga’s positioning can improve. The USC LB sometimes prematurely shoots through gaps, and his desire to attack blockers sometimes takes him out of prime tackling position. His aggressiveness can lead him into bad situations. Moreover, he can get caught second-guessing himself in congestion. There’s not a strong balance of patience and decisiveness quite yet.
To make matters worse, Mauga’s athletic profile isn’t without its own flaws. Mauga’s long speed isn’t great, and his closing pursuit speed also underwhelms. He flashes great initial explosiveness, but he doesn’t consistently have that same burst heading into the contact point.
Mauga’s not very instinctive in pass defense, and his raw athleticism isn’t enough to bail him out. His direction changes aren’t consistently fluid — and especially in 2020 — he struggled to keep the gas pedal down.
Mauga can also improve as a pass rusher, but that’s more of an ancillary role for him. He can place his hands better both in pass and run defense. With his size, the margin for error is slim in the trenches.
Kana’i Mauga’s NFL Draft scouting report overview
USC fans shouldn’t pin their hopes on Mauga re-establishing the Trojans’ NFL pipeline at linebacker. Nonetheless, the USC LB has some intriguing qualities. He’s dense, physical, and reasonably explosive. There’s also reason to believe we could see a bounce-back year in 2021.
Mauga didn’t look as spry or as confident in 2020. On top of COVID-19, Mauga dealt with a hamstring injury in October, which may have lingered in season.
Even if some of Mauga’s struggles can be credited to injury, the NFL Draft aspirant still has a great deal of refinement to undergo. On top of the above-noted issues, Mauga can be late to react on passing downs, and his overall instincts are very up-and-down.
At his best in 2019, he was dominant. But 2020 was a much less inspiring campaign. He has a great profile in the box, but his three-down potential is questionable.
If Mauga can get back to 100%, follow his keys, and take ownership of a playmaking role, he could once again emerge as a top defender. However, if Mauga can’t get back on track, his stock might be capped at Day 3.
Kana’i Mauga’s Player Profile
The pride of Waianae, Hawaii, Kana’i Mauga was a standout playmaker in his high school days. Back then, he was only 6’1″, 208 pounds, but he still flew across the field with his trademark energy and poise. Mauga garnered league-wide recognition in his senior season, racking up 52.5 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and multiple defensive touchdowns.
Mauga’s production earned him recognition on the recruiting front. The Waianae product was the second-ranked prospect in the state of Hawaii, earning a three-star recruit billing. Many of the West’s best schools — such as Boise State, California, and Washington State — offered the linebacker, but USC was the most prestigious program to contact Mauga. Thus, Mauga ended up signing with USC and enrolled in 2018.
Kana’i Mauga’s career at USC and NFL Draft ascension
The journey from Hawaii to Southern California presented a big change for Mauga, but the young linebacker took it in stride. In his true freshman season, Mauga played in all 12 games, accumulating 14 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, and 2 pass deflections.
In 2019, Mauga saw his role increase. He started eight of 13 games and filled up the stat sheet, piling on 59 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, and 2 pass deflections. Mauga was expected to earn all-conference honors in 2020, but circumstances beyond his control contributed to a down year.
COVID-19 impacted the start of the Pac-12’s season, and when the league finally put a season in motion in late fall, Mauga was held out of camp with a hamstring injury. He eventually found his way back onto the field, and although it was a down year, he still produced. The USC LB registered 41 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a sack, and an interception.
We’ve seen high-quality play from Mauga before — not just from a college football perspective but also from an NFL Draft perspective. When he’s on, Mauga has the explosiveness, density, and play pace to be a constant threat. The only problem is, being “on” all the time is easier said than done. Can Mauga flip the switch in 2021 and take advantage of the opportunity at hand? We’ll have to wait to find out.