The Curious Case Of Hercules Mata’afa

Can this undersized DT find a home in New England and a home at a new position?

NEPD Staff Contributor: Jeff Fidler

 
Hercules Mata’afa has the coolest name when it comes to the 2018 NFL draft but he has plenty of game to go along with it. And is someone every Patriots fan should know.

Hercules, a Hawaii native, comes from a very big, very athletic, family. One of 7 kids, 2 boys & 5 girls. Hercules grew up wrestling on the beach or his mother’s living room, with his sisters. One has a wrestling & MMA background and another water polo.

Hercules himself was a 2 time runner up State Champ (215 lb) before giving it up prior to his senior year in high school to focus on football. This was a great decision and lead to a fantastic career at Washington St. That wrestling background really helped Mata’afa transition to football. Wrestling is all about leverage, flipping your hips & getting out of pinch points. Not to mention you have to be a tough s.o.b. both physically and mentally.
Mata’afa, a 6’2/250 lb undersized DT broke onto the scene in 2015 when he had his way against Cal & Jarrad Goff (2 Sacks/3.5 TFL). After that he worked his way into the rotation and has improved ever since.
He lines up primarily inside and uses that wrestling pedigree to knife past & get underneath offensive linemen. He also has a killer first step, natural strength & very good hand usage. Mata’afa does most of of his damage at DT but at 6’2/250 he doesn’t project to one at the next level. Some might think that’s it for him but this is a guy that’s been fighting all his life and has a very versatile game. Hercules can also run the arc, has a tremendous motor & has spied on QB’s from the box on several occasions.
His heart, love for the game and versatility leads me to believe that our own Bill Belichick is just the guy to help Mata’afa transition to the NFL. Since, you know, Bill did the same for a certain Pats linebacker 2 decades ago? That’s right, Tedy Bruschi.
I believe Mata’afa has what it takes to develop into a 43 DE in some schemes but he could also flourish because today’s defenses are so “multiple”.
The game nowadays, is all about situational football. Every snap, every quarter, every half is broken down into situational football and Mata’afa could help in a number of ways. I believe he has what it takes to transition inside if needed and would bring some much needed speed. Not to mention blitz from inside. He has plenty of experience shooting those gaps. He could also be a 3rd down pass rush specialist & help on special teams. No coach or environment would be than here in New England.

Here’s my full scouting report on Hercules Mata’afa.


Background

  • From Lahaina, Hawaii. Went to Lahainaluna High School
  • Wrestled most of his childhood & was a 2 time runner up St Champ (215 lbs) before giving it up before his SR year. Lost to Dean Pestano.
  • Played OLB in high school football
  • Red shirt Freshman. Played in 11 as a R.S. Freshman and 12 as a Soph. Improved each year. Career – 83 Solo Tackles – 121 Total, 21 Sacks, 45.5 TFL, 3 FF

 

Strengths
  • Thick, proportioned body throughout ankles to shoulders & arms. Could add 8-10 before maxed out.
  • Great First Step & Speed RUSH. Quick twitch jumps off the screen. Can run the arc & knife gaps.
  • Variety of moves ~ Club, Club/Slide, Arm Over/Swim, Swat. Also has a well timed punch that hits underneath his opponent’s pads.
  • Understands leverage & how to get out of pinch points. As a result he bounces off his opponents. Active, violent hands help him stay clean too.
  • Flexible, agile and naturally strong. Will contort his body to get through gaps, underneath & around his man. Shows good lateral movement crossing his man’s face.
  • Lined up everywhere from 0 to 6 technique. At times dropped in coverage & spied on QB.
  • Great motor & great in chase & pursuit.
  • Loves football and puts team first. Coaches, teammates & opposing coaches have nothing but good things to say about him. “War Daddy” one O.C. described him as.

 

Concerns
  • Some teams might not see the fit for him. Size might knock him down some.
  • Gap discipline inside will always be a problem and probably be limited to Right End in a 43.
  • Has to keep a better eye on the ball when in pursuit, esp when shooting gaps/upfield.
  • Has to develop & go to counter move faster during the play and when he’s denied on his 1st attempt. Preferably a power move, like bull/snatch, push/pull to balance his speed & explosiveness.

 

Outlook
Hercules Mata’afa is a team first football player with a versatile & unique skill set. The NFL is increasing going to sub-packages & multiple defenses to combat the offensive machines out there. Mata’afa fits in base and in sub. So fun to watch. He plays with tremendous intensity & passion. My final grades come out after some pro day & combine #’s but Mata’afa is a top 50 player by my account.

30 Responses to “The Curious Case Of Hercules Mata’afa”

  1. Stephen J says:

    RB David Williams Arkansas 6’1″ 229 lbs

    https://twitter.com/CaddytotheLama/status/955922769203511297

    Career 341 touches 2 fumbles 304 carries 1450 yards 4.77 ypc

    Another under the radar RB

  2. Stephen J says:

    2 Hercules Mata’afa breakdowns

    1st from a San Fran perspective

    https://www.fourthandnine.co/single-post/2018/02/01/Should-49ers-draft-Pac-12-D-lineman-Meet-Hercules-Mataafa

    2 A Twitter breakdown

    https://twitter.com/JuMosq/status/906767933400948737

    While I don’t agree with the Solomon Thomas comparison being that Thomas is 20 lbs heavier it does show his explosiveness and athletic ability. He may not be gumby but he has that bend but is also more direct than say Turay.

  3. GM-in-Training says:

    Brady’s cap hit next season is $22M as things stand. It increases from 8.4% of cap, to 12.4% of cap.

    I don’t know exactly how they’d pro-rate it if they extend him. I do think that whenever he finally leaves, the QB who replaces him will be young and affordable, so they may as well keep redoing it and kicking the cap hit down the road.

  4. Jeff Fid says:

    I also think we great picks. 3 Top 64 picks for a SB team is pretty sweet.

    I don’t see that many holes.

    • steve earle says:

      Jeff you haven’t been watching very closely. Our LB group is made up primarily of 2nd stringers once Hightower is out. Our Def ends, Flowers who is very good and Wise, who needs to improve are again backed up by just good enough(s) as our lack of consistent pass rush all year caught up to us Sunday. We’ll be okay on the o-line if Solder is resigned but if not? All that adds up to six holes in my estimation. But yea we should be able to help ourselves with 4 or 5 picks in the first 100 if we pick wisely.

      • GM-in-Training says:

        It seems really possible both our swing tacklers are gone to FA. Rumor has it Anthony Garcia is down to 260 pounds because of whatever issue he had, and you wouldn’t expect him to top 320 by August.

        • EdgeX says:

          No, not rumor. Fact. It was reported from Dante Scarnecchia to Mike Reiss.

        • steve earle says:

          Putting on 60 lbs of muscle in less then, what 7 months, is near impossible. Fat yes but that doesn’t help much really. It will be a year until he can be back to where he was before.

        • Stephen J says:

          One he doesn’t need to be up at 320 to play Left Tackle. Matt Light played at 305 lbs.

          Two he lost that weight in August then placed on NFI in September he is not at that weight now.

          You will here more about Garcia in the near future.

      • Stephen J says:

        Steve E didn’t you watch the games this year. Do you not understand why we didn’t have a pass rush? It wasn’t because we couldn’t bring it with the players we had. We were tied for 7th overall in the NFL in sacks. We can bring the pressure when warranted. This had to do with SCHEME. The SCHEME called for 1 Setting the Edge 2 Contain the QB 3 Gap responsibility(LB/CB) in run coverage (DT/DE) at the line.

        By the way Deatrich Wise only played 6 snaps due to concussion protocol during practices leading up to the game. Most of his snaps went to James Harrison who played 68 out of 75 snaps.

        It was the back 7 that failed grotesquely. The only player that showed up was CB Stephon Gilmore.

        For a better breakdown of that Evan Lazar broke it down beautifully here in the defense section.
        https://www.patspulpit.com/2018/2/5/16974714/new-england-patriots-snap-count-report-james-white-super-bowl-52-explaining-malcolm-butler-decision?utm_campaign=patspulpit&utm_content=entry&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

        Rowe will give up yards but was not suppose to give up TD’s but he did both in this game. As I said previously he is more suited to play McCourty’s position. Then the DB’s, LB’s and DE’s missing tackles.

        Also not mentioned in that article was IR’d slot CB Jonathan Jones who could of been helpful as well.

        You guys are acting like we are closer to the Browns who were winless than a team that came 1-2 plays from winning the SuperBowl. If the Pats made TWO more plays than the Eagles and had won there would of been some concerns but not out right gloom and doom blood in the streets concern.

        Give credit to the Eagles as well. Remember they also put a beat down on the Vikings Defense who were the #1 Ranked Defense in the NFL this year according to the NFL.

        As can be seen here

        http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&defensiveStatisticCategory=GAME_STATS&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2017&seasonType=REG&d-447263-s=TOTAL_YARDS_GAME_AVG&d-447263-o=1&d-447263-n=1

        2 Free Agents that could help

        1 Eagles LB Nigel Bradham. Very under rated. He was PFF’s 3rd highest rated coverage LB at 87.7 and gave up just 0.62 yards/coverage snap.
        He also is pretty good in Run Defense. Against us in the SuperBowl he had 3 run stops on 11 run defense snaps in the 1st half.

        2 Free Agent S/LB Eric Reid of San Fran. He could bring that S/LB depth. He was given a 81.4 overall grade in 2017 playing that Chung role who was given and 81.7.

        • steve earle says:

          Stephen how many sacks did we get on Foles? How many hit? How many hurries? Our pass rush came in through out the season in fits and starts. Seven came in one game alone and half a dozen games with none that I can recall. Injuries were a big factor but our Def front 7 is where the weakness is most apparent. Opposing QB’s just had to much time.

        • Stephen J says:

          Once Again All due to SCHEME not players

        • Stephen J says:

          While the Def Front 4 may not be the most talented and wasn’t without blame it is not the issue its the back 7. Stephon Gilmore being the exception had no issue in covering his men for the most part.
          Nick Foles was 19-24, 307 yards, 2 TDs, 146.5 passer rating when he targeted Jordan Richards, Eric Rowe, Patrick Chung, Kyle Van Noy, and Marquis Flowers. Then when it came to the run defense it was the back 7 once again in missing gap assignments and tackles. The biggest liability in the run game being LB Elandon Roberts.

          This from Evan Lazar It was the same exact personnel package from the KC game. The Patriots ran the same 3-4 front with five across the LOS (3 DL, 2 OLBs), Richards at LB, two-high safeties that rolled in and out of cover-2 and cover-1 robber. Same exact group that KC shredded just like the Eagles did.

          The Minnesota Vikings have probably the most talented highly drafted Defense and they gave up 38 points to the Eagles. The Vikings have 4 1st round picks 2 2nd round picks 1 3rd and 2 4ths on their starting D. As far as talent and athleticism it doesn’t get much better than the Vikings. It came down to SCHEME.

      • macspak says:

        obviously Steve I agree with you – see above – lots of holes and needs for quality depth.

      • Jeff Fid says:

        Steve I pay very close attention to all things football/Patriots. We we’re a play or 2 away from another SB a few days ago. This team is a SB caliber team right now. Yes we a few holes but some are being dramatic about the situation. And I’m not about to flip out over a position that gets taken off the field nowadays in LB.

        I’m a huge Rivers fan and think he would have had a big role for us by season end. Unfortunately his injury, so young, scares me. He has that burst, bend, hands we’ve missed at the rush position.

        Again I’m very pumped about out our picks and just don’t see this team declining at all.

  5. EdgeX says:

    Mike you don’t think this guy could play a LB role?

    • Jeff Fid says:

      Mata’afa might be a bit of a project at Inside at first but has a great skill set for it. Also Wash St has literally all about speed & used him at DT for that purpose solely. There’s much more to the player than that.

    • Mike Gerken says:

      I think if he is going to make it in the NFL, it will be at a different position. His skill set will allow him to have some flexibility in certain packages and scenarios.

  6. GM-in-Training says:

    I’m, frankly, concerned about the Pat’s ability to rebuild this year.

    Sure, they have a logical approach to paring the least cost-effective veterans, trading late-round draft picks for high-upside mis-utilized reclamation projects, getting good value for their earlier draft picks, signing a few team-friendly veterans who want to enjoy the post season, developing some surprise UDFA for depth, and such…but, there are so many likely holes to fill because of FA.

    They don’t have a lot of cap space.

    They don’t have any special draft capital.

    They don’t have time to develop multi-year projects.

    The Safeties are getting older. The LB need some healthy, youthful talent.

    The DL needs 2-3 more studs.

    The OL is losing 3 of 4 OT.

    And the overachieving CB who played 97% of snaps last year struggled against taller receivers and is likely moving on.

    Tall, stud CB are pretty hard to find.

    Lots of needs, not a lot of picks or cap room, and not a lot of time left in the window…seems kind of worrisome.

    All that really leaves is trading expensive veterans that might be about to drop off, but who would those be?

    • steve earle says:

      Agree and as we actually have only 6 picks as of now they better be good ones. Trading picks for vets last year didn’t do a lot for us but neither did injuries and illness. Best help for Def backfield would be a pass rush, (MIA Sunday). Yea, Saf’s getting older but still very good. Fix the front 7 this off season, the CB/Saf next. Offense fixes can be done by re-uping guys already here.

    • EdgeX says:

      Yes. They have a lot of work to do this off season and, no, they can’t solve all of their problems in the draft a lone.

      Highly doubt they can solve all of their problems in one year too. This may take some time.

      …But with Brady and Belichick you just never know so here’s to hoping.

    • EdgeX says:

      Oh, and depending on who is available, and if able to find a trade partner I could really see this as being a year the Pat’s trade back from their first pick – as you said – too many needs!

  7. steve earle says:

    Yea, poor Colts, couldn’t happen to a more deserving franchise. Any way about Herc. Only saw one game he played so hard to judge but in the one I saw he was a nonfactor. Got no penetration and was easily brushed aside by the o-line. I don’t even recall who they were playing but it was on a network TV. My thinking is a 250 lb DT is just not big enough. So the question is can he transition to DE?

    • Jeff Fid says:

      I def think he can play DE/OLB at the next level. He has a lightning quick burst, very good hands, some dip & built in leverage. Naturally strong. Also has a variety of moves.
      He has more than a few reps on the edge so he has experience.
      If he were to go inside he brings a great motor, instincts & burst. Also he’d be a missile blitzing up the middle.

      • steve earle says:

        If he can make that shift he could be a 4th rd steal but don’t know. I’m looking for highlights now.

      • steve earle says:

        I’m not excited after watching Mata’afa highlight Jeff. If inside and he can get past the linemen’s inside shoulder he can be disruptive but whether is size or strength issue he doesn’t get off of blocks well nor does he change direction well. When he’s outside (DE) again he has a nice inside move but doesn’t set an edge well. Rushing the outside shoulder of the linemen he constantly gets directed deep and behind the QB or RB. His hips are stiff and he doesn’t get much bend to change the vector of his rush. I don’t think that’s coaching, it’s physical. This is a first impression I admit but sometimes it counts.

        • Jeff Fid says:

          Appreiacte the honesty & feedback. He’s def the prototype & has some rough edges but I love some of qualities. Also moving inside has me intrigued in a heavy pressure package.

          I’ve also been huve fans of Duke & Davenport for a while.

  8. Russell says:

    McDaniels is back……..poor Colts…Deflating for them. ;0)

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