BALTIMORE — The NFL is a passing league. The best way to combat these wide open passing attacks is to get to the quarterback. As a result, a premium is placed on certain positions. One of those positions is certainly an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defensive scheme. The “need for speed” is not limited to wide receivers.
The Ravens certainly have one of the league’s best pass rushing duos in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Rest assured they will take a look at some edge rushers in this year’s NFL Draft. The 2015 NFL Draft class is stocked with guys that can truly get pressure on the quarterback. None of the players had more sacks than Washington’s Hau’oli KIkaha. His 19 sacks was tied with Utah’s Nate Orchard for the most in the most sacks in the NFL.
Kikaha is one of the best edge players in this class but there are some injury concerns. He has had two ACL injuries in the past. Kikaha said at his pro day that there have not been any questions about the injuries and he’s ready to move on from it. Despite these injuries, his game is primarily built around speed, a high motor and the ability to get a jump on the ball. Kikaha gets a head start because of his ability to anticipate the snap. He can get around the edge very quickly.
The instant push that Kikaha can generate also helps him to set up a pretty lethal spin move back inside to the quarterback. The timing of his spin is perfect and he has used it to cause more than a few linemen to whiff. Quarterbacks are never safe in the pocket when Kikaha is on the field.
His speed and anticipation allow him to force tackles to hurry into their drops. At times, the lineman will lunge at Kikaha when he gets a jump on them. Kikaha bends his body to make it harder for the taller offensive lineman to get their hands on him. It’s a lot similar to how bigger receivers are taught to condense their body at the line of scrimmage thus creating a smaller target for corners to jam.
As far as pass rushers go, Kikaha is one of the purest ones in this draft. He is so fast and gets deep penetration. Sometimes he will run by the quarterback but his relentless mindset drives him to continue to chase the quarterback. He gets a lot of effort sacks.
The following video shows how Kikaha doesn’t give up on the play and eventually tracks down the quarterback. He gets a good jump and threatens the left tackle’s outside hip. His speed off the ball causes the tackle to over commit to his outside, leaving himself vulnerable to an inside move.
Kikaha elects to make a move back inside and take a shorter route to the quarterback. Often times you hear the saying “converting speed to power” when a fast edge rusher evaluation is made. This video is a perfect example of that. The tackle is 305 pounds, almost 50 pounds heavier than Kikaha. Once 305 pounds commits to going in one direction, it is hard for the player to redirect it.
The lineman is caught off balance because of Kikaha’s speed. If you look closely, you’ll see that the lineman actually had one leg in the air at one point. Kikaha is able to use the tackle’s momentum to his advantage. He is able to force his way back inside by moving the tackle with his only left hand. The quarterback sees Kikaha coming at him and tries to run but Kikaha tracks him down.
2015 NFL Draft Spotlight: Washington OLB Hau’oli Kikaha
This pass rusher has a background that includes wrestling in high school and he is a youth judo champion. It is very clear that he understands how to use his hands to keep lineman off of him. His hand quickness and placement really showed during pass rushing drills at the Senior Bowl. Combining the lethal hands with his shorter compact frame will make him harder to block on outside speed rushes.
Some call Kikaha a one trick pony, but there are quite a few games where he is lined up in the slot and drops back into the flats or short zone. That’s not to say that he can cover with the best of them. He is able to do an adequate enough job that will allow him to remain on the field more. Kikaha also sets the edge better than people think. He isn’t the biggest player at 6-2, 253 pounds but he does have a good bit of lower body strength.
Draft Projection: Late 2nd round
Why should the Ravens consider this prospect?
Two things come to mind when watching Kikaha play. First is his speed coming off the edge. The other thing is his high motor. Head coach John Harbaugh was questioned about Shane Ray at a press conference recently. Harbaugh pointed out how he liked a pass rusher that has an unbelievable motor and is able to use leverage to work the edge of an offensive tackle. That sounds a lot like Kikaha.
Suggs and Dumervil are not going to be around forever. Pernell McPhee got his share of reps as he was rotated into the lineup. McPhee was a free agent and signed with the Bears. Edge rusher is a position that the Ravens could add depth to. Kikaha could be a situational pass rusher that could get plenty of pressure on the quarterback and even register a good amount of sacks in a limited role. The Ravens could really use a rotational guy that can have an impact even if it is only in a limited role.
NFL Comparison: Robert Mathis
Like Mathis, Kikaha is somewhat undersized as an edge rusher. Both of these players do possess a great amount of speed when rushing from the outside. They both threaten tackles right from the snap because of their get off. These undersized pass rushers will surprise some offensive linemen with their power, especially when they catch them off guard by crossing their face after getting deep to the outside.
Mathis has become one of the best pass rushers in the game. He was a situational player when he first got into the league but he posted 10.5 sacks in his second season. Mathis wasn’t a starter until his third year in the NFL. Kikaha could take the same route as Mathis in the beginning of his career.