Following one of the most dominant seasons in Washington State Cougars history, all-American defensive tackle Hercules Mata’afa announced via Twitter that he has decided to forego his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.
Mata’afa was the single most disruptive force in the Pac-12 this season, registering 22 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, from his interior defensive line position despite his (relatively) lithe 6-foot-2 and 252-pound frame. For the effort, he was an AP all-American and a Pac-12 first teamer. (But not the Pac-12 defensive player of the year because the coaches are crazy.)
It was Mata’afa’s presence that allowed the WSU defense to take a major leap forward and surpass the offense as the strength of the team, helping to lead the Cougars to a top 10 AP ranking earlier in the season.
As a fourth-year junior, it’s presumed that Mata’afa has either earned his degree or is close to it, making the move to the NFL a natural one for a someone who has accomplished as much as he has at the college level.
He also is eligible to play in postseason games such as the Senior Bowl if he is selected, which would help to answer the question as to where he plays at the next level. His size profiles him as a 4-3 defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, and he would seem to have the athletic ability to do that. However, edge rushing is not something he was asked to do a whole lot over the last two seasons, and his draft status likely will hinge on how well a team feels like he can transition to a new position.
Mata’afa leaves WSU with 45.5 career tackles for loss and 21 sacks ... and a spot in the conversation for best defensive player in school history.