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    Can Miami Dolphins Afford To Take Another Big Medical Risk in NFL Draft?

    The best pure edge defender in this year's NFL Draft might be UCLA's Laiatu Latu. So why might he be available when the Miami Dolphins go on the clock at 21?

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    The Miami Dolphins should have one question when deciding whether to draft UCLA pass rusher Laiatu Latu if he’s available when they’re on the clock at 21:

    What do their doctors think?

    Because if Miami’s medical staff is convinced the neck injury — and fusion surgery needed to fix it — that kept Latu out of football in 2020 and 2021 is not an issue moving forward, he would be an excellent fit for a team that still needs EDGE depth.

    Miami Dolphins Draft Preview: Get To Know UCLA EDGE Laiatu Latu

    The Basics

    • Age: 23
    • Height: 6’5″
    • Weight: 260 pounds
    • Position: EDGE
    • School: UCLA
    • Current Year: Redshirt Senior
    • PFN Big Board Ranking: No. 19 overall, No. 4 EDGE

    Why Laiatu Latu Is a First-Round Talent

    Latu was the best defensive lineman in all of college football last year, totaling 13 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss.

    Latu, who transferred from Washington after his two-year medical retirement, in 2023, became the first Bruin to win the Lombardi Award as the nation’s top defensive lineman (also won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s top defensive end).

    Latu followed that up with a 4.64-second 40-yard dash, a 32-inch vertical leap, and a 9-8 broad jump at the NFL Scouting Combine.

    “Latu is perhaps the most exciting pass rusher to watch in the 2024 NFL Draft EDGE class,” PFN Draft Analyst Ian Cummings wrote of Latu. “Not only is he explosive, twitched-up, and insanely flexible for his size, but he also has deadly hand-fighting chops. He has a barrage of moves at his disposal, and he stacks combos and counters with elite quickness and reaction speed.

    “Latu is unique in that he doesn’t have one go-to move he sticks to. Latu has the ability to vary his attack in real time based on the leverage he encounters, and he can adapt just as quickly with his free-flowing athleticism and ruthless hand precision.

    “In run defense, Latu isn’t quite as consistent. He can still improve his overall play strength when anchoring and resisting displacement, and his balance when setting the edge can be inconsistent as well. Latu also diverts upright at times, making him easier to corral.”

    How Latu Would Fit

    Latu’s role, at least early, would largely depend on how the offseason rehabs go for Bradley Chubb (ACL) and Jaelan Phillips (Achilles). Both are question marks for the start of the season.

    If they are unable to make it back for the opener, then Latu and Shaq Barrett would likely be the Dolphins’ starting edge defenders.

    But even when Chubb and Phillips get back on the field, there should be plenty of snaps to go around. Four different edge defenders logged 240+ snaps for the Dolphins in 2023.

    The Dolphins don’t want to be in a position again next year where they need to bring well-past-their-prime pass rushers out of retirement to simply have enough warm bodies to compete in a playoff game.

    Latu said that in Combine meetings, teams talked “about my pass rush capabilities that bring me in, that’s the biggest thing they need. They talk about my versatility as a dropper, dropping in coverage, playing against the run as well.”

    The Dolphins were one of many teams to meet with Latu in Indianapolis.

    Bruin Brotherhood?

    While Latu never played with Phillips — a fellow UCLA product — in college, he certainly knows Phillips’ path.

    It’s remarkably similar to his.

    Like Latu, Phillips medically retired. Doctors thought Phillips’ career was over after he suffered multiple concussions. Like Latu, he ultimately proved the experts wrong and went on to great things after transferring (in Phillips’ case, from UCLA to Miami).

    “I haven’t been in touch with him at all, and I got there like a year before he left, but I was able to watch him against Cincinnati on my official visit, and seeing him destroying O-lines before he left for Miami,” Latu said of Phillips at the Combine.

    “But I know he kind of went through something similar where he almost medically retired, or pretty much medically retired, and I heard about that, and it’s definitely encouraging to hear that, and it definitely helps me get through a lot too.”

    Phillips had developed into an excellent pro prior to his Achilles injury, with 22 sacks in his first 42 games.

    Caution: Flammable

    During Latu’s two-year exile from football, he still needed a thrill-seeking outlet — which he found in firefighting.

    “I talked to certain stations in L.A. and kinda just [did] certain workouts that they do,” Latu said at the Combine.

    “They put on the vest and walk upstairs, like the Stairmaster, doing it literally for like 10 minutes with like 50 pounds on your chest and doing certain workouts like that to get me ready if that was the next step I took. But all the while I was still working pass rushing and my football abilities.”

    KEEP READING: Should Miami Dolphins Tap Into Alabama Pipeline To Address Biggest Need — Again?

    Latu enjoyed it so much that he plans to pursue a career in that area of public safety should football not work out, with the goal of someday becoming a fire chief.

    Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here, boss. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s all-new Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls — lone wolf or with your friends!

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