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Husky NFL Draft Profiles: Hau'oli Kikaha, OLB/DE

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With 32 sacks over the past two seasons, Hau'oli Kikaha is the most productive pass-rusher in the 2015 NFL Draft. Will that translate into a first-day selection, or will his pedestrian workout numbers cause him to slip into the middle rounds?

edge rusher Hau'oli Kikaha poses a dilemma for NFL scouts
edge rusher Hau'oli Kikaha poses a dilemma for NFL scouts
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You could make a pretty convincing argument that no other sport puts forth as much effort poking, prodding, interviewing, scouting and investigating prospective draftees as the NFL.  There certainly aren't any other sports that can match the spectacle that is the NFL Combine and NFL Draft in terms of TV entertainment.  Yet for all of that effort and work that goes into the process, every year there are numerous picks that are "busts" and numerous players drafted low (or not at all) that emerge as productive players and even stars.  How much stock should be put into a player's measurables?  How much should be put into on-field performance?

Few players embody this dilemma more than Washington's Hau'oli Kikaha.  With 19 sacks in 2015 and 32 over the past two years, he is the most productive pass-rusher in the draft.  Yet his size, speed and agility rate as average (at best) among his peers.  Add in the position conundrum facing NFL front offices - is he a 3-4 OLB?  A 4-3 DE?  Can he drop into coverage at times without embarrassing himself?  Can he play full-time with his hand on the ground and not be overwhelmed in the run-game?  Have his two ACL injuries robbed him of needed athleticism, and is he a strong risk for another injury to that knee?  These are the questions surrounding Kikaha and the NFL.

Hau'oli Kikaha | OLB/DE | 6'2" | 253 lbs

Performance notes: For a player that finished 3rd in the country in sacks in 2013 with 13.0 and 1st in 2014 with 19.0, Kikaha was strangely overlooked by the college football world this past year.  Fellow conference players Nate Orchard of Utah and Scooby Wright of Arizona were part of the issue as both also had big years - Wright in particular captured the fancy of the country, partly due to his production, partly due to his big plays in a nationally-televised upset over Oregon, and partly due to his memorable name.  Kikaha also likely suffered from a perception that fellow linemate Danny Shelton was a key element to his success by drawing double-teams in the interior.  Wright took home the Pac-12 defensive player of the year award and Orchard garnered more All-American notice than Kikaha.  It's a shame, because in most years a player racking up 25.0 TFL, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 53 overall tackles and even 1 pass break-up would be a near shoe-in for the conference's Pat Tillman award for best defensive player and for consensus All-American recognition.

Strengths: Kikaha is a relentless pass-rusher - his effort will never be questioned.  He displays an uncanny bend toward the QB, terrific balance and a judo-fighter's hand work.  He shows good change of direction and doesn't quit on a play.  He stays low through his rush and knows how to use leverage to his advantage and has a very good first step.  Has some experience this past season with dropping into short zones in coverage.

Weaknesses: He can get overwhelmed at the point of attack and rendered ineffective in the run game.  He has 'tweener size and athleticism - he's small for a traditional DE and has below-par athleticism for a traditional OLB.  His coverage skills need some work.  He can get too aggressive at times and lose contain on the edge.  It's not clear that he can be more than a situational pass-rush specialist.  Concerns linger over his 2 ACL injuries to his left knee.

Scout's take:

Kikaha is the most accomplished pure pass rusher in this draft class. Relies on a relentless motor off the edge more than athleticism. He has an elite determination to get to the quarterback. While he seems to specialize in just rushing the passer, Kikaha has the power, hands and frame to improve against the run. It might take some work to get fully comfortable as a stand-up 3-4 OLB, but Kikaha is a very safe draft prospect as long as his medicals check out.

-- NFL.com draft profile

Ideal fit: Kikaha can be an effective player in the right scheme.  He's not going to be effective as a strongside DE or as a SAM LB - he's going to need to play a role very similar to how he was used last year by the Huskies in a BUCK type of role with limited coverage responsibilities and mostly a focus on rushing the passer.  For you Seahawk fans out there, he's more Cliff Avril and less Bruce Irvin - he's not a guy that is likely to find success being asked to play in space and cover downfield.  He's been compared frequently to Rob Ninkovich, someone that finally found success with the Patriots when they put him in a role that maximized his skillset - Kikaha can thrive in a similar role.

Draft prediction: Drafted, 2nd-4th rounds