Xavier Su’a-Filo was undoubtedly one of the better "value picks" from the 2014 NFL Draft. Widely considered a first round caliber guard, the former Bruin fell all the way to the 33rd overall pick, where Bill O’Brien and Company gladly scooped him up. I sent a few questions over to SB Nation’s resident UCLA blog, Bruins Nation, to get a primer on the Texans’ shiny new left guard.
1. Xavier Su'a-Filo is known as sort of a "Jekyll and Hyde" kind of guy. Off the field he's as nice as could be, but on the field he turns into one bad, bad dude. What does he bring to an NFL locker room?
Xavier has been a very well-liked guy during his time at UCLA, in the locker room and among the fans and alumni following the program. I imagine that his work ethic and professionalism, while being a pretty friendly guy off the field will serve him well with his teammates, while his generally high character will be an asset for the Texans organization.
He's already a player with a veteran mentality, being an old junior at 23 and having gone through a 2-year Mormon mission in Alabama and Florida. Excellent interview and was a leader of the offensive line from the second he showed up as a freshman through the last snap he took against Virginia Tech.
2. What is Su'a-Filo's greatest strength on the field?
Xavier's technical ability on the line is unlike anything we have seen for a long time, and his agility for a lineman is great. His versatility is another strength. At UCLA, Xavier was able to play well inside and out on the line depending on team needs. While he is physically not an ideal NFL offensive tackle, if your team ever does need him to slide over due to injuries/team needs, he does have the skill to handle it. Add in his attitude, strength... Really the total package is better than any we have seen on the line at UCLA since Jonathan Ogden was taking the field in blue and gold nearly 20 years ago.
His ability to pull and make effective blocks in space. If you go through a highlight reel of UCLA's biggest running plays of the last two years, there is a common theme of XSF (nickname we used at BN to avoid the hassle of the hyphen and apostrophe) dipping behind a couple of other linemen, leading through the hole and finishing a block on a linebacker/safety/defensive lineman. Extremely athletic with great feet despite the pear-shaped frame. Also, his steadiness in level of play. He might have a bad play every now and again, but you won't worry about him ever having a bad game.
3. Greatest weakness?
Here's the tough one, particularly as we haven't had many other elite linemen in the program to compare him with. His size does limit the usefulness of his versatility at the next level - while he can play tackle at times if really needed, his professional future is at one of the two guard spots - and he could stand to strengthen up a bit regardless.
Despite the "Jekyll-Hyde" comment earlier, his biggest issue would be occasionally lacking violence with his hands (mainly in pass blocking, but UCLA struggled with that in general the last two years). He has enough power to move anyone at any time or stop pass rushers at the initial point of contact, but struggles at times with that. Mainly showed up when he was forced to move out to left tackle.
4. Between Xavier Su'a-Filo and Anthony Barr, who more important to the Bruins last season?
This isn't a judgment of which one was or is the better player, but Xavier was the more important player for the Bruins last year. Anthony is a great player, but the Bruins were generally able to cope when he had a down quarter or game. He was the star of our defense, but part of one of the elite linebacker corps in college football, along with a defensive line that could also pressure the QB. On the flip side, for a significant portion of our season, the UCLA offensive line consisted of 3 true freshmen, a sophomore center who caught a case of the yips in terms of making shotgun snaps - in an exclusively shotgun offense - for 3-4 games, and Su'a-Filo. It wasn't quite as dire as it sounds, as those 3 frosh were all highly recruited linemen, while the center, Brendel, was a solid 2nd year starter who suddenly became inconsistent for a stretch. But Xavier's presence was crucial for the Bruin offense, his individual level of performance as well as his impact on his young linemates.
Take Barr away from last year's defense and that unit's effectiveness takes a hit, but possesses the depth and talent to cope reasonably well. Take away Su'a-Filo, and the offense would have gotten very ugly, very fast.
The most important player was QB Brett Hundley (a player the Texans could take a run at in the first next season, though with all that talent it'd be tough to pick high again). Outside of him, it would have to have been Su'a-Filo. If he hadn't been able to play a solid left tackle in the second half of the season, the Bruins would have been hard pressed to keep Hundley upright as much as they did. Barr is fantastic and a much flashier player, but Su'a Filo was a rock.
5. How would you grade the selection of Su'a-Filo at 33rd overall?
It looks pretty good to me. I see him as a player who will go to Houston ready to immediately compete for a starting spot at guard, and has the ability to hold down that spot for a long time in the league. I am not the right guy to predict how high his ceiling in the NFL is; whether he will be a perennial pro-bowl invitee or just a guy who quietly gets the job done in the trenches. But for a guy who should be able to plug right into your o-line and brings a strong work ethic and high character into the locker room, 33rd overall sounds like a deal.
Getting the best interior lineman in the draft at the top of the second round is an outstanding pick. Tough to give that anything but an A. XSF is going to be a high level starter in the NFL for the next decade plus. Rare to get a pick that safe in the second round. The moment it became clear (at least to me) that XSF was an NFL starter and not just a good college player was in 2012 against Utah's Star Lotulelei (#14 pick of Carolina). XSF took the most disruptive player in the Pac-12 out of the game. Rises up to the best competition.
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Patroclus and IE Angel for taking the time to answer all our burning questions. If Su’a-Filo is half as good of a player (and a person) as I believe him to be, this was a second round pick well spent. Make sure to head on over to Bruins Nation at some point today and thank them in advance for giving us Brett Hundley next spring.