2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: UCLA Offensive Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo

Xavier Su’a-Filo’s journey has ventured beyond football. But on the field, the UCLA Bruin has become one of the top offensive linemen in the country. (USA Today Sports Images)

NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas

In the coming weeks and months leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, NEPatriotsDraft.com will profile college prospects that potentially fit the needs and draft seating of the New England Patriots. In this third installment, we will take a closer look at the film behind UCLA offensive guard Xavier Su’a-Filo.

Xavier Su’a-Filo is carved from a different mold.

That mold turned the 6’3”, 285-pound offensive lineman into a three-year starter at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah, where the Thunderbirds won a state-record 36 consecutive games behind Su’a-Filo’s road-paving blocks.

Recognition followed.

He was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the state by Rivals.com. He was branded a top-35 prospect by ESPNU. He was named a first-team All-American by EA Sports. He was selected to play in the Under Armour All-America game.

Su’a-Filo was a four-star recruit, but he was also an Eagle Scout and a member of the LDS Church. And after enrolling at UCLA and starting a school-record 13 games as a freshman left tackle in 2009, after being named a Phil Steele second-team Freshman All-American and a Pac-12 All-Freshman selection, he decided that football could wait.

So he left to serve a two-year Mormon mission. It was a mission that would lead him across the country to Florida and Alabama. It wasn’t until winter of 2012 that the 6’3”, 305-pounder returned to school in Los Angeles.

No. 56 picked up where he left off.

Under the tutelage of UCLA head coach Jim L. Mora and former New England Patriots second-round pick Adrian Klemm, Su’a-Filo started all 14 games at left guard and spelled at left tackle. The redshirt sophomore played a key part in current Green Bay Packers halfback Johnathan Franklin rushing for the Bruins’ single-season record. He was named first-team All-Pac-12 as a result.

Su’a-Filo earned the same acknowledgement again this fall.

The 23-year-old started all 13 games as the Bruins compiled 2,556 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground. He provided a blend of athleticism, power and experience on the left side of quarterback Brett Hundley’s spread-option attack. He kicked out to tackle when a season-ending injury hit. He won the Morris Trophy – bestowed upon the conference’s top offensive lineman – in December.

Yet after 40 starts over five years, Su’a-Filo declared for 2014 NFL draft in January. And although he’s taken a longer road to reach the draft process, he fits the mold of what personnel departments want in an interior lineman.

He will hear his name called within the top two rounds this May because of it.

Until then, head coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots figure to be one of the organizations in contention for the versatile blocker. Now whether Su’a-Filo is available at 29th overall or 59th remains to be seen. But what has been seen is his tape.

Courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com, here is a closer look at how Su’a-Filo’s strength and mobility resonate in both offensive phases of the game.

An Agile, Explosive Run-Blocker

With nimble footwork and responsiveness off the snap, Su’a-Filo proved to be a natural fit for UCLA’s drive-blocking scheme.

Although he will run in the 5.2 40-yard dash range, Su’a-Filo is sudden in short space and could run an impressive three-cone time at the NFL Scouting Combine, much like his former Bruins teammate Jeff Baca did last February.

Now speed may not be vital for a blocker, but quickness is. If a 300-pound trench player can respond rapidly off the line, then that movement can be converted into power.

This is a correlation that Su’a-Filo embodies.

This is, at least in part, because much of his extra weight is carried in his lower midsection and legs. And while shifting mass upwards appears to be in the long-term plan, his unique frame has helped him engage and drive his defenders off the ball from the ground up.

His body composition is modifiable; his awareness and athleticism, on the other hand, are hard to teach. Su’a-Filo is a cerebral blocker who sees the defense pre- and post-snap. Furthermore, he has the flexibility and core to move laterally into rush lanes before shifting downhill.

Those traits have helped Su’a-Filo hit the second level as a pulling guard, a combination blocker and also as a bookend. He can square and engage his assignment. Then he can forge through them.

This was exemplified against USC on Nov. 17, 2012, during Su’a-Filo’s redshirt sophomore season.

With a 17-point lead in hand and over 12 minutes left in the second quarter, the Bruins assembled in “21” personnel for a Franklin inside cutback run. On the other side, the Trojans employed a 4-2 nickel that positioned 6’5”, 290-pound defensive tackle Leonard Williams in the three-technique across from Su’a-Filo.

Williams, who went on to amass 13.5 tackles for loss during his freshman campaign and be selected to the ESPN.com All-America team the following year, stood in the eye of the designed path. It would be up to Su’a-Filo to muscle him out of it on the 1st-and-10.

As Hundley handled the snap from Pistol formation, fullback David Allen broke towards the right B-gap. This drew linebacker attention and pursuit, which coincided with the play’s design. Because at the same instant, Su’a-Filo had dropped his hips and burst into the defensive tackle.

That impact off the ball would leave repercussions.

Su’a-Filo, head on with Williams, latched high and tight before following through the block. This sent the Trojans lineman backward and helped clear the second tier.

In the first tier, the fullback block set up the cut.

Franklin switched course as the defense crowded the right side. He saw a runway the fullback’s block all the way through then-UCLA tight end Joseph Fauria’s block.

In the middle of it was Su’a-Filo’s.

Su’a-Filo had arm-battled Williams, and he had utilized his lower weight distribution to knock him off kilter as well.

Su’a-Filo’s block carried Williams three yards back from his starting point. But as the back neared, Williams tugged his hands around Su’a-Filo’s right arm in an effort to move back into the play.

And with all Su’a-Filo’s momentum moving towards the first-down marker, the sideswipe rotated him back towards the line of scrimmage.

It was a cost-effective sacrifice on Su’a-Filo’s part. Franklin used the roadblock to launch into the secondary, before Wes Horton lunged for his shoelaces and made contact

The play went for 10 yards and a first down. It wasn’t a textbook play for Su’a-Filo; it was an explosive one.

Now on occasion, Su’a-Filo stands up and oversteps his reach, allowing his opponent a chance to swing around for the ball-carrier. On occasion, his hips fail to dip as he thrusts into a defender’s pads, slowing his feet and leaving him susceptible from a leverage standpoint.

Still, the culmination of willingness and ability accentuates refinement.

An Energetic, Combative Pass-Blocker

Su’a-Filo’s efforts in the run game translate to the pass.

When you watch him work in pass-protection, one of the first things you notice is his hand use. He doesn’t waste time establishing the inside punch. And as his opponent sheds, he is reactive in replacing his initial hand with the next one.

Su’a-Filo takes the same approach, regardless of whether he’s covered or uncovered by a defender. He is diligent in finding the combo block and swaying the gaps, yet he can also sit back in his anchored stance and be problematic against the bull rush or swim move.

Now even though the UCLA offense gave way 36 sacks in 2013 – 109th in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the offensive line didn’t wear an albatross around their necks for it. Much of the outcome hinged on Hundley’s elusive playing style, and subsequently, his time spent in and out of the pocket.

In result, some of Su’a-Filo’s most resilient moments transpired on broken plays and coverage sacks. This was seen versus Stanford on Oct. 19.

Down 17-3 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter, Hundley and the Bruins went to a four-wide, empty-backfield set on 1st-and-10. The Cardinal defense, conversely, went to a 3-2 dime package, rushing only three and dropping two linebackers into coverage.

Two of those linemen, draft prospects Josh Mauro and Trent Murphy, combined for 19 sacks before their final collegiate season drew to a close.

One of those 19 would be registered on this play.

The 6’6”, 261-pound Murphy played the seven-technique outside of left tackle Simon Goines, while the 6’6”, 281-pound Mauro played the three-technique outside of Su’a-Filo. And without a halfback residing in the backfield, both had one goal in mind: rush the passer.

As Hundley handled the snap from shotgun and went through his progressions, Su’a-Filo dipped, bent his knees, and extended to punch Mauro’s chest plate.

He was able to do so violently, locking the Cardinal’s forearms.

Hundley, meanwhile, stood in the tackle box and waited for a mesh point to reveal itself.

He had ground to stand on until then. Center Jake Brendel and right guard Alex Redmond doubled the one-technique, while Goines detered Murphy’s inside shoulder.

And within the A- and B-gaps, Su’a-Filo entrenched his right foot as Murphy attempted to rip back inward, tilting his knees towards the quarterback.

Su’a-Filo’s well-grounded base made the task a difficult one for Mauro. He was unwilling to let his man redirect under control. Mauro vied to dislodge his arms from Su’a-Filo’s heavy hands, but functional leverage was swaying against him as his feet grew distant from his upper body.

On the edge, a low and unbalanced Murphy was slowly finding different results. He had cut back towards the B-gap, trimming the cushion between himself and Hundley, who was idling without open windows downfield.

Murphy regained balance and stepped back, which left Goines lunging and without balance. This afforded the All-American an opportunity to sweep behind Su’a-Filo, who had fended off Mauro’s arms to stay square and lengthen the play.

Nevertheless, the time to lengthen the play was dwindling. Hundley stood nine yards behind the line of scrimmage with targets blanketed and linebackers spying on the scramble.

The uncertainty played into Murphy’s hands. He knifed into the void; Hundley maneuvered towards him.

The redshirt sophomore could not dodge the redshirt senior, going down for the sack instead.

An eight-yard loss was the byproduct, but a faltering offensive line was not the reason why.

Su’a-Filo, for one, had contained Mauro’s pushes and pulls through the whistle. He had optimized the room for his quarterback to climb the pocket and make a decision. Only he was unable to with coverage well-placed.

The play expended six seconds.

Now at times, Su’a-Filo is a constituent in his QB being sacked. At times, he misgauges the defender’s jump, which leads to more difficult blocking angles at the point of attack. At times, his combo blocks are overmatched by inside stunts. At times, his back arches, his knees straighten and his plant foot rises, conceding leverage.

Yet within Su’a-Filo’s flaws rest his upside. For a player who spent two years away from the game, he plays like one who’s making up for lost time. And the way in which he finishes blocks illustrates that.


While Su’a-Filo is a mature and well-traveled 23 years old, his growth is far from stunted.

Physically, technically and mentally, Su’a-Filo has continued to evolve on the left side of UCLA’s line. In turn, he carries the blend of size, power, flexibility, quickness and persistence to be a first- or second-round draft pick.

And if the last five years are a useful barometer of progress, then the well-traveled Utah native offers the potential and stability a team like New England could be searching for.

The Patriots have only drafted nine interior offensive linemen since 2000, and only two before Round 4. Yet with influential offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia retiring after 30 years in Foxborough, it is a variable to watch for sooner than later this May.

So is Su’a-Filo.

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22 Responses to “2014 NFL Draft Close-Up: UCLA Offensive Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo”

  1. HD Paulie says:

    Danerio Alexander seemed poised for a breakout season for the Chargers last year until a pre-season injury kept him out all year. He’s a FA and at 6’5″ he might be worth a look as a big WR the Pats have been unable to find. With the emergence of Keenan Allen the Chargers may be foolish enough to let him go, and he wouldn’t break the bank. Any thoughts ?

    • acm says:

      He just recently had a 2nd surgery on the ACL he tore last preseason. He’s had chronic knee ligament issues thru both his college and NFL career to the point of where his career may well be in jeopardy.
      He is a free agent, so he may be available on the cheap later this year when he’s done rehabbing but obviously not a player to build your O around.

    • Accuan says:

      Who the hell is Denamaririo Alexander ????

    • Trevor says:

      If the Patriots could sign DA for as cheap as I think he will be (minimum or close to it) then I am 110% on board. Minimal risk with huge upside. If the price is right (dirt cheap) then I don’t see why not.

  2. YodasLlama says:

    Patriots Seven Round Mock Draft (No Trades but a 7th rd comp pick for Woodhead)
    Hope you enjoy my mock. Bill is never predictable so I try to not mock people he should take because we all know he probably wont. I changed it a little bit since last time.

    Biggest Team Needs Prior to FA
    DL, DB, TE, OL, WR

    1. Calvin Pryor FS/SS Louisville
    Tall and fast safety who could play both safety positions and possibly corner if absolutely necessary. Harmon looked great last year and should develop into a good prospect but their is the slight possibility that the Patriots loose McCourty to free agency after next season. Finding an heir now would be better than after he leaves. Even if McCourty stays he might have to play more CB if Talib leaves. Having talented depth at any DB position is never a bad thing. High character guy that Bill will love.

    2. Stanley Jean-Baptiste CB Nebraska
    I know the Patriots are going back to back on DBs in my mock draft but with good reason. Talib may not be back next season which would make Ryan and Dennard the starters outside which is not terrible but changes the whole dynamic of the Patriots secondary. Drafting Jean-Baptiste with or without Talib staying would give the Patriots a dynamic CB who with the right coaching could end up being the best CB on the Patriots roster.

    3.DaQuan Jones NT/DT Penn State
    Bill O’Brien connection. I expect the Patriots to restructure Wilforks contract to clear up cap space and they have some talented young DTs on the roster, especially Armstead. However they need a another space eating NT to help Silga until Wilfork returns from injury. Jones is big 6’4″ 320lbs and would be the perfect heir to Wilfork inside.

    4. Anthony Steen G Alabama
    The Patriots would be wise to beef up the Offensive Line given the injury issues they faced last season. Steen is not a high ceiling guard but can be a good pro in the right system. I expect Cannon to win the starting RG spot but Steen could give him a run for his money. Worst case scenario, he is a serviceable backup. Team captain, Nick Saban loves him and I think Bill will too.

    6(PHI). T.J. Jones, WR, Notre Dame
    I think Jones lack of top of the line speed and height will hurt his draft stock, especially with so many talented WRs in this draft class. Brian Kelly and Bill started a friendly relationship last season and expect Bill to look at a few Notre Dame prospects this season. Jones is roughly the same height as Boyce but is more of a possession receiver. Former team captain, well respected in the locker room.

    6. Colt Lyerla TE Oregon
    You may be wondering why I haven’t mocked a TE in the first three round to New England, only because I believe the Patriots will find some talented 2nd Tier free agents to help until Gronk comes back at full health. Lyerla is the most talented TE in this draft, he is just a major headcase and was kicked out of Oregon because of his problems. I think Bill will still draft him, especially if he is available in the 6th round.

    7. Isaiah Crowell RB Alabama State
    He started his college career on fire for Georgia but unfortunately his Georgia career was cut short because of multiple felony charges. I expect Blount to leave this offseason. Crowell is arguably one of the most talented RBs in this draft but a major head case, one that even the Patriots may overlook, but if they drafted him it could pay off well. Major boom or bust prospect.

    7(COMP). A.C. Leonard TE Tennessee State
    Another talented yet troubled TE that I think the Patriots cannot pass up in drafting. Gronk is the best TE in the NFL when healthy but pair him with Lyerla and Leonard and the Patriots have an extremely scary TE group. Drafting Leonard in the 7th round is a risk the Patriots can afford to take.

    • Brian says:

      Not a fan of Crowell at all. He is talented yes but not worth it, especially when you are picking two more troubled players. I would have gone with another raw talent in the OL like Wentworth from Fresno or Turner from North Dakota. Think about it. The Patriots starting five right now are Solder, Mankins, Connolly, Cannon and Vollmer.

      You draft Steen and maybe Wentworth in this draft. Coupled with second year players Chris Barker, Josh Kline, Markus Zusevics, RJ Mattes and Braxton Cave. Plus maybe a few veteran additions in camp. Bring in Will Svitek, Kevin Boothe and Tyson Clabo.

      That gives them fifteen OL for training camp plus maybe a few more UDFA.
      Safe: Solder, Mankins, Cannon, Vollmer, Steen (can Steen play center?)
      Maybe: Connolly, Clabo, Boothe, Svitek, Wentworth, Barker, Kline, Zusevics, Mattes, Cave

      I heard a lot of good things about Zusevics and Cave, and I hope one of them can win the starting C job so that they can get rid of Connolly. Lets assume the Patriots keep 8-9 OL on the regular season roster. It could look like this.

      LT: Solder, Svitek
      LG: Mankings, Steen
      C: Cave, Zusevics
      RG: Cannon, Steen, Booth
      RT: Vollmer, Svitek

    • Pete H. says:

      Might be nice to take a couple of interior offensive linemen in the middle rounds of the draft. There is supposed to be good depth in this draft, so it’s a good opportunity to find long-term replacements for Wendell and Connolly rather than relying on lower upside guys like Cave, Barker, and Kline. Lots of potential in your draft, though – hard to complain too much!

      I have seen Lyerla on a lot of these mocks, but it sounds like he was very recently caught doing hard drugs… I’m not sure he’ll even be clean by the time the draft rolls around. This may be a guy who needs to get his life in order before someone hands him the hundreds of thousands that even undrafted guys receive, and from what I’ve heard he hasn’t really shown signs of trying to do that.

      • steve earle says:

        Your right about Lyecla being on lots of mock drafts as a late rd steal. Your also right the guy may not even be clean by draft time. I would think to be drafted teams would have to be very sure he is clean otherwise they wouldn’t touch him. It would all depend if he want’s to play football or be high. I’ve heard nothing about him lately but it does look like he chose drugs over football at Ore.

    • jim r says:

      I like what you did there with CROW.

  3. J H TARBORO says:

    Xaivier is a perfect example of why you shouldn’t get rapped up by a player or 2 at certain positions, he is a really good O lineman that we didn’t speak much of, only if you watched his games this season,in which I watched a few. Get ready for the combine, many surprises in store, I seriously believe that this year you will see standout and freak performances in every group.

  4. antonio says:

    ..what about gabe jackson?? he might be around with the 58th pick!

  5. Matt says:

    acm. If the Pats cut Amendola which they should the Pats still owe him $ 10 million in guaranteed money unless they can sell his contract. Does anyone know if an NFL contract can be sold to another team? I do know Jacksonville has a lot of money to work with.

    • Pete H. says:

      I think it would have to be a trade, although the return could be largely worthless, like a swap of 7th rounders or a practice squad type player. Or you could release him and have him picked up off waivers, but I don’t think he would get picked up until he cleared waivers.

    • acm says:

      no, you can’t sell contarcts in the NFL like they do in the MLB. As Pete said, it would have to be a trade but even then the Pats would incur some cap hit, albeit much smaller than if they were to cut Amendola.

      iirc, cutting Amendola now wouldn’t be as prohibitive as one may expect, though. I think the decision would come down to if they believe he could be much better with a healed groin and improved chemistry with Brady or not.

      • Matt says:

        So what would the deadline be for cutting Danny A. March? Also if they did then they would not have to pay him the 10 million? Or just a smaller amount?

        • acm says:

          yeah, March. No, the 10 mil is guaranteed and will be incurred in cap-hits over the next 2 seasons, iirc. The reason why why cutting him would not be completely out of the question is that the dead money from his contract are spread out over the next 2-3 years and not just the next year.
          Would depend on the small print in his contract and how much keeping Edelman and say signing Sanders (to replace Amendola) would cost the Pats vs. keeping DA.

      • Accuan says:

        Only the front office knows best, if they sign or don’t sign a guy, that’s because they know better. Look at the Redskins and Cowboy’s front office, they could sign Brandon Meriweather to $60 M bucks, they’re capable of doing that.

  6. Pete H. says:

    Also, Su’a-Filo sounds like a great fit from this write-up if he’s still available in the second round!

  7. Pete H. says:

    I know it’s not Bill’s MO, but are there any outside wide receivers to pair with Dobson that would be both good value and still available when the Patriots pick at 29? With seemingly good depth at interior O-line in the draft, the possibility that both Wilfork and Kelley are back at DT, and the liklihood that Talib is resigned to solidify the secondary, I could see the Patriots considering a wide receiver here they thought the player could learn the offense and had more upside than say a tight end who might be another option. Any thoughts?

    • acm says:

      Allen Robinson and Jarvis Landry would be WR who would suit well the Pats system, imo. But that’s not happening, with bigger needs at OL, TE and secondary …. also considering he didn’t draft a WR last year when they overhauled the WR core from the ground up. In fact, there is a considerably better chance of BB drafting a long snapper or another punter in the 1st than a WR.

      Plus, to get better at WR, the team needs a savvy veteran player, not another rookie to spend a year or two learning the ropes. Plenty of those on the roster already.

      • Pete H. says:

        Thanks ACM – I agree a vet would be better, so what vets would be a fit at outside receiver and be able to contribute immediately?

        • acm says:

          James Jones, Hakeem Nicks, Brandon La Felle, Jerome Simpson come to mind, depending on affordability.
          If Edelman leaves or Amendola is cut to allow Edelman’s staying, Emannuel Sanders would be of prime interest to the Pats, I think.

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