The Oregon State right tackle might have the most entertaining game tape in the 2024 draft class. He makes devastating blocks with "movie level" violence. What I mean by that is if you were making a football move and wanted to make the action more dramatic, you might use wires or CGI special effects to show the linemen sending defenders flying through the air. In the theater, a football player watching the movie would scoff "That's totally fake, real football doesn't look like that."
When Taliese Fuaga is on the field, reality and movie magic become indistinguishable. Life imitates art imitating life. His highlights look like they are fake videos, but they are real. It is impossible for me to do justice to them merely by describing them with words, so you'll have to go watch a highlight video on him to see what I mean. Not surprisingly, Fuaga is one of the fastest rising prospects in the draft and one of my favorite prospects this year.
Name: Taliese Fuaga. Name pronounced "Tall-ee-s-a Foo-ah-gah". Redshirt Junior
School: Oregon State. 1 of 5 team captains in 2023. Sociology major.
Size: 6'6'' tall, 334 pounds. 5.20 sec (40 time) per NFLDB.
3 star recruit from Tacoma, WA. When other PAC-12 schools backed off his recruitment, only OSU and mid-major type schools offered him scholarships. Starting RT in 2022 and 2023. Per NFLDB, allowed zero sacks in 2022 and 2023.
Added 12 pounds and dropped body fat in 2023. Exited a 2022 game due to injury.
Doesn't come across as a strong, vocal leader in interviews.
The LT for OSU, Joshua Gray, also is a highly ranked draft prospect and projects as a G in the pros. I only watched him a little, but I think Fuaga is the better prospect.
NFLDB: Mauler in run game, nasty. Long arms. Strength to anchor. Violent initial punch, natural leverage, excellent hand placements. Good angles climbing. Capable and coordinated on move. Powerful lower body, leg drive. Lunges vs speed off the edge. Impatient in set, inconsistent kick slide. Liability vs speed to power pass rushers.
PFN: Unexpected lateral quickness and downfield speed relative to size. Solid patience in pass pro. Prone to power rushers ripping through grip.
NFLDB 30th overall prospect
Drafttek 38th overall
CBSSports 17th overall
PFF 21st overall
PFN Big Board 15th overall (their 3 analysts rank him 17th, 20th and 13th)
Luke Easterling (SI) mock draft 28th overall
Josh Edwards (CBSSports) mock draft 23rd overall
Connor Rodgers (NBC) mock draft 11th overall
Devastating run blocker. The term "road grader" is way overrused by draft experts. Being a big guy doesn't automatically make you a road grader. Taliese Fuaga is a legitimate road grader. If you look up the term road grader in the dictionary, Fuaga's picture might be next to it. Absolutely destroys DTs on down blocks and smaller defenders. Guys go flying down the LOS, colliding with other defenders, pounded into the turf or driven way out of their gap. A one man hole generator for the RB. He's such an outstanding run blocker, the RB should buy him a gift at the end of the season to thank him.
Violent, nasty play style. He attacks defenders like he's a junkyard dog. Stacks pancakes, so many poor opponents knocked to the ground hard. Put 2 guys on the ground on the same play.
All aboard the Fuaga train. He takes defenders for very long rides on run blocks. On zone plays, he can wash them so far away the action, they end up like 5 yards out of their gap.
Unreal explosion to the 2nd level, like he's shot out of cannon. He can sprint 3 yards out of his stance as fast as a RB. I'm not kidding, watch him run, it is like an optical illusion. NFLDB might say he runs 5.2 seconds in the 40, but his short area speed is crazy. Not only is he super fast getting to the 2nd level, but he arrives with very bad intentions.
One play to illustrate. It is a wide toss going outside of the LT. The WILL LB in pursuit is going to be running parallel with the LOS. Fuaga is the RT blocking on the backside of the play. You'd think that there would be no way he'd be able to cut off the LB. The angle isn't right. How is he supposed to get there in time? But, Fuaga explodes so fast to the 2nd level that not only does he get there easily, but he almost goes too far upfield, nearly allowing the LB to slip underneath him. How does a RT run faster than a LB? Crazy.
I don't recall ever talking about a lineman's ability to block at the 3rd level. Fuaga's blocking range is so incredibly large, however, that's exactly what happens. He repeatedly gets to the 3rd level on plays and takes out safeties. It's crazy. He's like an OL you'd create in a video game with a cheat code. A creative OC could design plays that give Fuaga unconventional blocking assignments, because he can reach landmarks that for most OL would be impossible.
A runaway train at 2nd and 3rd level. I don't know if he was even supposed to block some of those defenders, he'd be driving one guy backwards, then a 2nd guy would be in the way and Fuaga's attitude seemed to be "I'm just going to wipeout everything in my way." He's like a huge snowplow truck and if you get in front of him, you get run over.
Intimidating upper body strength. Unloads on power conference opponents and makes them look like they are Division II players.
Outstanding zone scheme run blocker. Scheme versatile, because he has great mobility and athleticism for zone plays, but tremendous size and strength for gap and power runs. He can do everything in the run game.
Short 3rd down, going heads up vs a decent sized DT/DE. Completely mauls him solo man blocking, driving him backwards off LOS. Stays low and drives forward on QB sneaks.
Can turn body inside a phone booth on combo blocks to pick off LB.
Shows discipline not to commit penalties when the runner reverses field. Initial footwork out of stance is sound on both run and pass blocks.
Weapon in the screen game. Fluid change of direction in space. Speed and power to destroy DBs on screens.
Independent hands punching in pass pro. Coordinated, accurate and disciplined hands. Very good hand speed. Can delivery flurry of punches. Active hands disrupt pass rush moves. Repeatedly chopped defender's arms down. Good patience in his pass set. Breaks ribs as a help blocker. Good mass and stance to anchor.
Quick feet. Wide base. Good contact balance after engagement, sliding feet to mirror and remain balanced. Has a fast 1st kick step, able to gain depth, but doesn't overset or get out of relation with the RG, able to adjust and pick up twists.
Awareness to pick up CB blitzes.
His short area ability to sprint also helps him recover in pass pro to shove the rusher past the back of the pocket. One play, he sees QB is in danger, turns, sprints and runs about 2 to 3 yards to make saving block.
Substantially improved in 2023 vs 2022. His technique is better both pass and run blocking. I like this, because it shows he has worked on his game. The negative way of spinning it is he's something of a one year wonder, because he hasn't played like a 1st rounder for multiple seasons.
A tweener, because he's taller than ideal to play guard, but his arms are too short to play tackle. I'd give him a shot at RT, but if he struggles there (likely in pass pro), he might have to slide inside and try to play guard. The good thing is I think his hands are fast enough to potentially transition inside and become a guard. To my knowledge, he hasn't played on the left side of the line.
Sometimes has to lean forward and lunge slightly to punch in pass pro due to lack of length. Struggles to grab the defender and maintain a firm grip on them. Pass rusher can push RT's arms off and break his grip too easily. Unable to get to chest of EDGE, sometimes his hand can only get to the elbow of the rusher.
Can't comfortably protect the full arc. A couple of plays, he lined up too far off the LOS, cheating to get a head start, because he's stressed to get back in time to cut off fast speed rushers.
Lack of length is a disadvantage in run game, not just in pass pro. Unable to grab and control the defender on kick out run blocks. Sometimes struggles to latch on and stay attached on run blocks on the move. Doesn't have a wide frame or big wingspan, fast defenders can get around his seal blocks after disengaging.
While he can drive defenders and move them, he has a poor ability to swivel his hips around to seal them on zone runs. Doesn't have good hip fluidity and flexibility or enough technique.
Has a higher center of gravity.
In the games I watched he made about 3 mental mistakes that resulted in him not blocking anyone or blocking the wrong defender. Fell asleep vs 3 man loop and didn't switch, allowing free runner to QB. Got confused by zone blitz, leaving EDGE rusher clean to QB.
Overruns blocking angles at 2nd level by being too aggressive. While he's fast getting to the 2nd and 3rd level, he doesn't have elite COD to mirror quick DBs if they move and dodge him in space.
Plays in a run oriented scheme, didn't have many plays where he had to sustain pass blocks for longer periods.
Draft Grade and Pro Comp
1st round grade. Matthew Bergeron (38th overall selection 2023, Atlanta Falcons, Syracuse)
Another player I think is a comp is Teven Jenkins of the Bears, who was the 39th overall pick, early 2nd round in 2021 out of Oklahoma State. Jenkins played both LT and RT in college and is a RG for the Bears. Jenkins was hurt and played very little as a rookie, with a 47.5 PFF grade playing at OT. He moved inside to G in 2022 and had an impressive 80.7 grade. He missed games for the 3rd straight season in 2023, but has a 72.0 PFF grade. Matthew Bergeron plays LG and has a 57.2 PFF grade his rookie year.
If Fuaga, Jenkins and Bergeron were all in the same draft, I'd rank Fuaga higher than the other 2. Fuaga has some limitations as a pass blocker and might never be elite in that department, but he is one of the best run blocking OL prospects you'll ever see in a draft. What an incredible mix of size, power and athleticism.
In an earlier era of pro football, Fuaga might go at the very top of the draft. The thing that potentially limits his value is the NFL is more of a passing league than a running league. Still, I think that Fuaga is a potential superstar, because he is a tremendous blocker in space and the NFL has become a space game. WR screens, RB screens, a running QB, there are many different types of plays where getting an OL up to a LB or S can be the key that unlocks a huge play.
Where should Fuaga get drafted? That is hard to say, because if you think that he'll ultimately play inside as a guard, maybe only the bottom of the 1st round. If we think he's the next Rodger Saffold, for example, Saffold was only the 33rd overall selection in his draft. Considering where Jenkins and Bergeron were taken, Fuaga might end up only being a 2nd round pick. If you think that Fuaga could become the next Lane Johnson, he easily would merit a top 10 selection. In Johnson's draft, the top picks were Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel. Normally, you would take a LT ahead of a RT, but if the RT turns out to be a better player than the LT, what is the point of ranking the LT first? In that draft, if you look at the other OTs and EDGE rushers (e.g. Dion Jordan, Barkevious Mingo) there was only one true diamond at those 2 premium positions from that draft and it was Johnson.
Rams fans understandably want to get a LT in the 1st round. Fuaga has the talent, however, to vie for being the top OL prospect in this draft. As long as I've been on TST, all I've heard is how fans wish the Rams wish we had huge, powerful, mauling offensive linemen instead of small, finesse zone scheme players. Well, it is time for those old school, smashmouth fans to represent. Get behind your man. His name is Taliese Fuaga. He's the very player Rams fans have been demanding for years. The human road grader of the 2024 draft.