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Draft King Analysis

June 16, 2008
Lou Pickney,

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As of this writing, Fili Moala sits at the top of the Draft King 2009 NFL Mock Draft. This is in part due to the projected needs of the Atlanta Falcons (who Vegas has as its longest shot for winning the Super Bowl, which is how I obtain the draft order at this time of the year), and is based more on anticipated performance and ability than anything else.

Fili Moala
Fili Moala will anchor USC's defensive line. (Icon SMI)
The primer on Moala: he was supposed to join USC in 2003, but due to academic issues, he attended a junior college that year and didn't play football at all that year. He had a redshirt year at USC in 2004, saw action as a redshirt freshman in 2005, moved into the starting lineup in 2006, and started every game for the Trojans in 2007.

Moala is either 6'4" or 6'5" (depending on who you believe) and weighs 295 pounds; he clearly has the size necessary to play defensive tackle on the NFL level. Haloti Ngata, a standout defensive tackle for the Ravens, is his cousin, so he already has a family connection to the pro game.

There are skeptics out there who believe that Moala is overrated (read this article from FPN-partner Walter Football to see what I mean), and it will be up to Moala to prove this season that he has more strength, athleticism, and balance than some critics think. He's moving into the three technique spot this year for USC, which will give him a chance to either earn his spot as a top pick and prove that he can play the three-technique or potentially slide down draft boards.

To be fair, Moala has played alongside some talented teammates in the past couple of years, including fellow DT Sedrick Ellis, who went #7 overall in the 2008 Draft to the New Orleans Saints. The bulls-eye will be squarely on Moala this year, and he has the opportunity to either live up to his pre-season hype or fail to do so. He'll be put to the test right away, facing Ohio State and talented running back Beanie Wells on September 13 in Los Angeles in front of a national audience on ABC.

Interestingly, doesn't even have Moala listed as the top senior DT in college football; the crew there ranks Georgia DT Jeff Owens better, at least as of this writing. Owens has issues of his own (including a separated right shoulder), but it was interesting to see him ranked higher. I suspect that it might have something to do with his great pass-rushing skills.

One concern about Moala that came up recently is the dreaded "character issue" tag, applied due to his arrest on March 2 following a fight at a bar in Newport Beach, CA. It annoys me that the presumption of innocence is often thrown out the window when it comes to athletes. In Moala's case, charges against him were dropped by the Orange County District Attorney's Office less than two weeks later due to what was described as a lack of sufficient evidence.

Still, I suspect that this will be brought up by TV pundits and likely even by NFL teams during the interview process going into the 2009 NFL Draft. Such is life for athletes in the United States in this era.

What Moala has to prove this year is that he can play DT at a high level, likely against frequent double-teams. He has to show that he is strong enough to dominate on the inside and, perhaps more importantly, that he's athletic enough to be a big-time impact player on the NFL level. If that proves to be true, Moala should be a top 10 pick if he stays healthy, and he has the potential to play his way into the top spot of the draft.


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