Hercules Mata’afa is a 6’2”/255 pound nightmare for opposing offensive lineman and offensive coordinators alike. Mata’afa was a three star recruit coming out of Lahainaluna High School in Lahaina, Hawaii where he played outside linebacker and was a two time state finalist as a wrestler.
Redshirted as a freshman, in his first season of action Mata’afa played in 13 games in which he was responsible for 32 total tackles, 11 for a loss, 7 sacks, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His second season he was named to the Lombardi, Bednarik and Polynesian College Player of the Year Watch Lists. He finished that year Second Team All-Pac 12. He played the full thirteen game schedule in which he totaled 47 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, 5 sacks. So far throughout the seven games he has played in the Cougars 2017 campaign, he has amassed 30 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
HERCULES MATA'AFA!!! Looking like Clowney vs Michigan!
One bad Mata'afa!!! pic.twitter.com/mfiBlAFUDm
— '03 Kliff Kingsbury (@fearthe_beard11) November 4, 2017
Winning Off the Snap
The first thing you notice about Mata’afa on tape is his burst off the line. According to PFF he was ranked sixth in pass rush productivity in 2.5 seconds or less. He keeps a low pad level and gets skinny while attacking gaps. Hercules finished number one in terms of inside pressures applied per snap, generating pressure on roughly every 15th snap. His quickness, flexibility, and effective punch allow him to quickly shred blocks.
Versatility as a Pass Rusher
He is a speed rusher and utilizes a club, swim, club and slip and stunts to beat his blockers. He demonstrates the ability to take on double teams and shred blocks to make tackles even though he is an undersized prospect. He has lined up in six different spots on defense which will afford NFL GMs and coaches flexibility in how they deploy him within their scheme.
Maintaining Gap Discipline
He is a high motor player who attacks the line of scrimmage relentlessly every play which is also his downfall. He often breaks through the interior of a line as if every down was a pass rushing down and does not always maintain gap discipline. He doesn’t keep his eye on the ball which sometimes results in him running away from the play because he is so focused on beating his blocker. This allows for lineman to get to the second level or opens a cutback lane for running backs or the QB to step up in the pocket.
He will also need to work on his tackling efficiency because he missed 12 tackles in 2016. Mata’afa needs to develop a bull rush and push pull and rip as well as transitioning faster into counter moves if he is going to translate as an edge defender at the NFL level. He has a small frame at 6’2”, so he can’t add on too much more weight without hindering his athletic ability.
NFL Scheme Fit
He will transition to a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme, or depending on how he tests at the combine he could step back into a linebacker role similar to how Hasson Reddick did. Early in his career I expect him to be used on passing downs as a pass rush specialist. You will most likely see his name called on day two if he decides to enter the 2018 draft.