Mata’afa’s decision to skip senior season could cost him

NFL scouts are unsure what position Mata’afa will play due to his size



Redshirt junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa plays in a game against USC on Sept. 29. He decided to forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.

COLIN CONNOLLY , Evergreen reporter

The NFL is a league for the best of the best, a dream of many, but a reality for very few.

Redshirt junior defensive lineman Hercules Mata’afa recently announced via social media that he is going to forego his senior season at Washington State University and enter the NFL draft.

“I’ve decided to pursue a dream since I was a kid,” Mata’afa said in a tweet, referring to entering the draft.

Mata’afa was a dominant lineman at WSU and had an impressive career that will stand to scouts.

In his time as a Coug, Mata’afa had 46 tackles for loss — the second most in WSU history — 21.5 sacks, and 121 total tackles.

2017 was his standout season, during which he set the WSU record with 22.5 tackles for loss and recorded 10.5 sacks. He was also named consensus All-American and 2017 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year.

To go along with all of those awards and achievements, Mata’afa is also one of 21 candidates for the 2017 Lombardi Award. This is presented based on performance, leadership, character and resiliency, regardless of the player’s position.

Mata’afa is clearly a special player and has all of these accolades to prove he will be successful in the NFL.

He has shown consistency on and off the field as a player and person. He can carry the load of being double and triple teamed by offensive lineman and still produce, and he can handle the media attention that comes along with it.

For Mata’afa, there is a lot he can bring to the table that NFL teams should admire.

However, for NFL teams there are some concerns with Mata’afa foregoing his senior season because they don’t know exactly how he will translate professionally.

The Cougs have changed their defense over the course of the past couple of years to be the “Speed D”. This mindset has turned the WSU defensive stats around and made our defense respectable and trusted in late game situations.

Speed D has been a monumental change for WSU, but it may not be the best for players transitioning to the NFL. This is because our defensive lineman are smaller and faster than those you would see playing professionally, or even at other major colleges producing NFL-ready players, such as University of Alabama.

The inability to predict Mata’afa’s NFL playing ability is a big concern for some professional teams scouts, including one for the Oakland Raiders, according to 24/7 Raiders insider Victor Cotto.

“[Mata’afa] should’ve stayed in school, his reel is nice, but he’s a classic tweener,” the scout said to Cotto.

Playing in his senior season would have definitely helped him gain more attention from NFL teams. He also could have gathered more film for scouts to analyze and project where he could fit into an NFL defense.

Mata’afa could have an opportunity to disprove the skeptics and show off his talent if he is invited to participate in the NFL Scouting Combine during the first week of March. If he partakes in the combine, he could climb his way up the draft rankings.