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Why Gus Bradley believes Laiatu Latu has chance to make immediate impact for Colts in 2024

Latu had 23.5 sacks over his final two seasons at UCLA, and brings a well-developed arsenal of pass rushing moves to the Colts. 

Every rookie, no matter the position, faces a steep learning curve upon entering the NFL. For pass rushers, that curve is challenging to conquer because offensive line play is significantly better in the pros, and NFL-level protection schemes are designed and executed to keep an opponent's best sack-getter out of the pocket.

It's why only eight rookies since 2010 have had double-digit sacks:

Table inside Article
Player Team Year Sacks
Aldon Smith 49ers 2011 14.0
Micah Parsons Cowboys 2021 13.0
Bradley Chubb Broncos 2018 12.0
Von Miller Broncos 2011 11.5
Josh Allen Jaguars 2019 10.5
Joey Bosa Chargers 2016 10.5
Maxx Crosby Raiders 2019 10.0
Ndamukong Suh Lions 2010 10.0

Since 2010, 25 second-year players have had double-digit sacks while 23 third-year players, 38 fourth-year players and 40 fifth-year players have hit that mark. The light comes on for different players at different times.

But Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley sees a world where that light comes on quickly for defensive end Laiatu Latu, who was the No. 15 overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft last week.

"When you look at the history of rushers, sometimes it's tough — there's a transition," Bradley said. "They come up and you go oh, this guy was great in college and then he has four sacks or five sacks and there's a transition time. So I think you look at players and you say, alright, what can speed that process up? What gives them a chance — it's always a race to maturity, especially with rushers. How fast can they get there to where oh, it finally kicked in, their fourth year, their fifth year, you're starting to see them get a good feel for things.

"I think with Laiatu, he is very polished. He has an arsenal of moves. He's not a one-trick pony. You see speed to power, you see speed and so you feel like, boy, his maturity, it has a quicker chance of getting there than oh, okay, this guy's going to develop."

Latu totaled a Power-Five-conference-leading 23 1/2 sacks over his two seasons at UCLA, and he consistently effected opposing quarterbacks even when he didn't bring them to the turf. The 6-foot-5, 265 pound had a pass rush win rate – a Pro Football Focus stat tracking how frequently a defensive player "won" a pass rushing snap against an offensive lineman – of 23.4 percent, and Latu generated a pressure on 21.8 percent of his pass rushing snaps, both of which were the highest rates among Power 5 defensive linemen.

And it wasn't just that Latu was winning at the college level that attracted the Colts to him in the pre-draft process. It was how he was winning those reps.

"He's pretty polished at the college level," Bradley said. "We anticipate that it should translate over but there's still a time period, that the tackles are a little better and protection schemes and things like that."

The Colts also placed a high value on Latu's relentless motor and never-quit attitude, which stems from him quite literally never quitting football after being medically retired while at the University of Washington. Not only does that attitude help Latu finish plays, but the Colts believe it'll help him work through whatever difficulties he may encounter translating his pass-rushing repertoire to beating NFL offensive linemen.

"It's such a mindset — you go against a tackle with your first rush and get stymied, and you're like, ooh, this is a little bit different," Bradley said. "But I think he has more of the mentality of, he just keeps coming."

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