What is Kikaha style? It is fast and furious, sneering at the naysayers who didn’t think he would excel after back to back knee surgeries in 2012 and 2013, while becoming the most accomplished pure pass rusher in this year’s draft class with an elite determination to get to the quarterback using his big beautiful judo-wrestling trained hands. He is not flawless but he is relentless. He is the Rob Ninkovich that won’t get away.
Hau’oli Kikaha was one of the most feared pass rushers in college football. In 2012, he recorded 15 ½ tackles for losses and 13 quarterback sacks as a college junior at the University of Washington. In 2014 Kikaha notched his game up a bit with 25 tackles for losses and a single season record of 19 quarterback sacks.
Kikaha partially credits his abilities to his mastery of martial arts, judo and wrestling. “I always enjoyed participating in the martial arts field and mainly in judo, “ Kikaha said. “It teaches you so much about hand speed and quickness and positioning yourself to take a blow. A lot of that equates to playing defense in getting off of blocks with your arms and hands and quickness to take and deliver a quick shot. It’s a big part of my game. Like most people my age I grew up watching wrestling on television and wrestled in high school. You learn leverage from wrestling and how to work around a bigger opponent. I have always thought that angle of judo and wrestling I can put in my football play out on the field.” And, oh yeah, he won the league championship in judo.
Hau’oli Kikaha also saw the field as a defensive end and tight end. Kikaha has the power, hands and frame to improve against the run and will need work competing in space. He played against Andrus Peat in the Stanford game and Peat was able to handle him in the game sometimes. Does Kikaha become a better pass rusher practicing against Peat? In the same Stanford game, another offensive lineman seems to have Kikaha stopped when he gets his hands in Kikaha’s chest but Kikaha steps to his left, knocks knocks down the lineman’s hands, and then steps across the front of his body to pursue the quarterback. You can see why he was drafted by the New Orleans Saints. He is not fast or overpowering but he is technically sound and will not, will not stop until the whistle blows.
“Kikaha was one of my favorite players in this entire class. He doesn’t have the timed speed you look for in an edge rusher, but he has enough first-step quickness to keep offensive tackles guessing. He can convert speed to power and his relentless motor results in several second-effort sacks. This guy just knows how to finish plays.” – Todd McShay, ESPN.
“This guy is a playing fool. … A Rob Ninkovich-type high motor rusher with great versatility. Nate Orchard is the better player without medical questions.” – Chris Landry, LandryFootball.com.
“Explosive first step and arc speed to get around the edge with flexible body control and balance to flatten. Stays low with natural dip, using his hands to slap away blockers’ jabs without slowing his momentum. Fluid change of direction skills to make sharp 90-degree turns with the loose hips to turn and play in coverage — will drop and cover in short zones with natural ball awareness and proximity feel. Strong wrists and arrives with aggressive angles and violent intentions, tuning up his target. Nice job on the edges to hold the corner and close off the outside, tracking well to work off contact and pursue. Plays assignment sound football with elite effort and competitiveness. Fiery, pesky motor that simply doesn’t quit. … Solid build and muscle tone, but lacks ideal body strength and can be pushed off his path at times by blockers. Too easily slowed and needs space to be effective, lacking the length to live in a phone booth. Doesn’t have the power to consistently shed once engaged and won’t overwhelm with his upper body strength. Can be run at and controlled in the run game, too easily moved from his spot. Moves well, but not a twitchy athlete. Too many ankle biting tackle attempts, needs to better break down on the move. Needs to improve his anticipation and instincts in coverage. Strong durability concerns after tearing the ACL in his left knee twice. — Dane Brugler, CBSSports.com.