Tevarua Tafiti (ILB/OLB, 6’3” 210, Punahou School, HI)
Tevarua Tafiti is far and away the gem of the 2022 Hawaii recruiting class. He first got on my radar as a freshman when as a skinny 6-0 170 lb DE he managed to fight his way into the starting line up of a Punahou defense that featured five future D1 football players and ended the season as an all-league DL alongside Faatui Tuitele. Then, as a sophomore, Tafiti shifted into an off-ball “rover” position to better utilize his athleticism. I got a chance to watch Punahou play SoCal power Long Beach Poly in Los Angeles last fall, and Tafiti balled out in a dominant 45-0 win that saw him flash all over the field. That new role as a movable chess piece in the defense aligned him everywhere from edge rusher to deep safety, and he was tasked to attack the ball at all times.
Tafiti likely projects as a Ulofoshio-type of ILB or as a Bartlett-type“X” OLB. Ulofoshio was one of our more impactful LBs this past year, despite below average coverage skills, because he was a sound run defender and an excellent pass rusher from the ILB spot. Similarly, the Tevis Bartlett version of the X-LB position had a mix of limited coverage responsibilities, backside contain in the run game, and a healthy dose of pass rushing. I’m not sure what the LB roles will be now that Coach K is back in charge as our DC, but it could indicate a move away from Ryan Bowman’s “hand-down” version of the position and back to Bartlett’s style. Regardless, Tafiti should have limited coverage responsibilities, backside or off-ball run responsibilities, and a significant pass rush role in order to maximize his skill set.
At 6-3, his frame could handle a comfortable 225-230 lbs, which would be closer to recent ILB sizes. It’d be a stretch for him to reach Edge/OLB-size given his narrower frame, but you don’t need size to be an effective blitzer (*blitzer being different from a down-to-down pass rusher). Having been asked to play so many different roles, Tafiti is still quite raw in his technique, especially in coverage, but he makes up for it with his athleticism and nose for the ball. He has closing speed and sound tackling in space, which helped him capitalize on a large number of impact plays where he was a free rusher. Making plays won’t be as easy at the higher levels, so filling out and building strength to fight off blocks will be important to taking the next step. As he progresses through a S&C program (as I’ve been told he has over the last year), and as he gains experience playing off the ball and learning his run keys, Tafiti should project to be a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine with inside-outside versatility.