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Scouting Report: DL Hercules Mata’afa, WSU

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The versatile defensive lineman from Washington State has incredible production and impressive athleticism, but where does he fit in an NFL defense?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 Nevada at Washington State Photo by Robert Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Another week, another series of scouting reports as we continue to look at some of the most interesting prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft for the Falcons. Next up is the intriguing Hercules Mata’afa from Washington State, who played all over the defensive line for WSU. Mata’afa had outstanding production, including a Washington State-record 22.5 tackles for loss to go along with 10.5 sacks, 45 tackles, and two forced fumbles.

To get the full picture of Mata’afa, I watched him against Utah, Boise State, and Stanford. Let’s take a closer look at what I learned below.


Scouting Report: DL Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State



Strengths

Mata’afa is a very interesting prospect that lined up all over the defensive line for Washington State. At 6’2, 255, Mata’afa played most of his snaps on the interior—at either 1T or 3T—but also played on the EDGE at times. He survived there at his size because of his exceptional strength—Mata’afa was difficult to move, even when doubled. That strength carried over to his tackling, where Mata’afa showed excellent form and rarely let defenders escape his grasp.

Mata’afa is also an impressive athlete. He shows great burst off the line of scrimmage, which is often too much for interior offensive linemen to handle. Excellent closing speed to chase down plays and generate clean-up sacks. Mata’afa has a solid ability to bend the edge and shows fluidity in his movements. He’s an active hand fighter with a solid arm-over move in his arsenal.


Weaknesses

The biggest question mark for Mata’afa is: where do you play him in the NFL? His size almost certainly makes a full-time role on the interior impossible, and he lacks the desired length and athletic traits that teams look for in a premier edge rusher. Bigger, stronger, and faster NFL OLs will likely give him more issues than he faced in college. It will take a creative defensive coordinator to find a good fit for Mata’afa.

Mata’afa also struggles to disengage from blocks if offensive linemen manage to get their hands on him. His hand usage could use some refinement, and he could stand to add more moves to his repertoire. Mata’afa also plays a little high at times and could improve his leverage.


Analysis

Analysts are all over the place on Mata’afa, and for good reason. He’s not a traditional defensive lineman, and many teams probably won’t be able to find a fit for him. Mata’afa is likely too small to play on the interior in the NFL, where he was most dominant in college. On the EDGE, I don’t think his athleticism is quite as effective. He’s a versatile player without a simple NFL role.

For a team like the Falcons, however, that role already exists. Adrian Clayborn has played it for the past several seasons, and Mata’afa would be a perfect replacement should Clayborn pursue other opportunities (and more $$$) in free agency. Mata’afa is strong enough to be an early-down run defender on the edge, and can then kick inside for passing situations to put his unique pass rushing skillset to good use against guards and centers.

That “hybrid” role is where I believe Mata’afa will shine in the NFL. He’s far too talented to be placed into a cookie-cutter role of a pure EDGE or pure DT, and will be wasted there. As a versatile inside-outside player, Mata’afa should be able to reach his true potential. I think Mata’afa has 6-8 sack upside, and should be able to contribute against the run as well. With several EDGE players—Brooks Reed, Derrick Shelby, and the aforementioned Adrian Clayborn—potentially on the way out over the next two seasons, the Falcons would be wise to continue investing resources in the position. Mata’afa should be on the Falcons radar on Day 2, and especially if he’s available early on Day 3.


Grade: 2.5


What are your thoughts on Mata’afa winding up in Atlanta? Where would you consider drafting him? Who are some other players you’re interested in adding in the late Day 2/early Day 3 range?