Why Colts believe Laiatu Latu is best defensive player in NFL draft

The Indianapolis Colts made edge rusher Laiatu Latu their first-round pick at No. 15 overall in the 2024 NFL draft with the belief he was the best defensive player in the class.

Latu joins the Colts as a very polished pass rusher and one who will likely have a role right away as a sub-package edge rusher to begin his career.

General manager Chris Ballard told reporters following the draft Thursday night that they feel they got the best defensive player in the draft.

“Excited about we got (Laiatu) Latu. He’s a really great kid,” Ballard said. “I know the medical is going to be a question. Like our doctors said, he played two full years with it and had 22.5 sacks. We think we got the best defensive player in the draft. I thought we got a little lucky. There were really four or five really elite players, and he was one of them so we feel fortunate to get him.”

MORE: What NFL draft analysts said about Laiatu Latu

The questions about the medicals are really the only major red flag. Latu was forced to retire in 2020 after suffering a neck injury during practice when he was at Washington. He missed two seasons but was medically cleared in 2021.

After that, he transferred to UCLA and became a dominant force on the edge. In 25 games (12 starts), Latu racked up 23.5 sacks, 34 tackles for loss and 127 total pressures during his final two seasons at UCLA.

GRADE: How we graded Colts pick of Laiatu Latu in NFL draft

Ballard also detailed why the Colts think he’s the best defender in this class.

“He’s a natural rusher. He’s a three-way rusher where he has got a great long arm down the middle and he’s got a great feel of when to counter inside and he can win on the edge. He’s kind of got all of it. He’s a really talented guy,” Ballard said. “I think our front – I think our defensive front is the best since we’ve been here. It’s excellent. It’s excellent and really excited about it.”

Injury questions aside, the Latu selection has a lot of upside. The Colts needed to add a natural edge rusher who could win with speed and bend from the edge.

Other positions may have been more of pressing needs, but Ballard wasn’t going to pass on a prospect they viewed as elite.

For more Colts coverage, check out Kevin Hickey’s work on Sporting News.

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