The Philadelphia Eagles signed undrafted rookie free agent Destiny Vaeao shortly after the 2016 NFL Draft. In order to learn more about the new Eagles defensive lineman, I reached out to SB Nation's Washington State Cougars blog: CougCenter. WSU writer Jeff Nusser (@NussCoug) was kind enough to answer questions about Vaeao.
1) What are his strengths?
"Disruption is the name of Vaeao's game. His first step is excellent, and he specializes in splitting unsuspecting offensive linemen who aren't quite prepared for his quickness. These two plays are from WSU's win over UCLA. In the first, the right tackle is supposed to shove Vaeao to the inside while the guards sell the play action, but he never has a chance to get there. On the second, he starts shaded on the outside shoulder of the guard and is able to come all the way back inside to split the guard and the center.
It resulted in Vaeao racking up 12 tackles for loss from an interior lineman position, including 4.5 sacks -- and that doesn't really do justice to the number of plays he altered.
But he's also strong! You saw it a little on the second clip above, where he's able to power through the double team. Here he is shoving Stanford guard Joshua Garnett -- who was picked in the first round by San Francisco last night -- back a few yards before shedding him to sack the QB. Ostensibly, power is Garnett's best attribute, and he got put on skates:
He also can hold his ground against the run. Here, you'll see three plays in which he lines up in 3 and 5 technique. I think the second play is my favorite; he doesn't actually make the tackle, but it's him holding his ground that forces Christian McCaffrey back into the hole where the safety is waiting. Remember: Two of these plays are against what was considered to be one of the most powerful offensive lines in the country.
He also has positional versatility. As a freshman, defensive coordinator Mike Breske actually played Vaeao at his Buck linebacker position - the equivalent of WSU's current Rush backer spot, a hybrid DL/LB role. It seemed odd, and he didn't stay there, but it was a window into the kind of athleticism the coaches loved. He transitioned to defensive end, then defensive tackle. He's played outside, he's played inside, and he was at his most disruptive playing 3 technique this past season for WSU."
2 - What are his weaknesses?
"The versatility is nice, but it's tough to know exactly where an NFL team will see him. Is he a 3-4 defensive end? A 4-3 tackle? A 4-3 defensive end who slides inside on passing downs?
Additionally, consistency was an issue. Vaeao's production was fairly underwhelming for three seasons, and it was even a bit underwhelming for the first part of last season - just 1.5 TFL in the first four games against Portland State, Rutgers, Wyoming and Cal. Four teams he should have done well against. But he finished the season strong, recording more than half his TFL in the final few games. The guy from Stanford and the guy from the final part of the season can play in the NFL. What about the other guy?
And is he really as athletic as he appears? His pro day numbers certainly didn't make anyone sit up and take notice, despite what you see on film. Will the quickness and strength still play against the elite linemen he'll face on Sundays?"
3) Were you surprised that he went undrafted?
"Not really. In another year with less defensive line depth in the draft -- a year where guys like Jarran Reed aren't getting drafted in the bottom half of the second stinking round -- he might have had a chance to go at the end of the draft. My guess is that the flashes of dominance combined with a so-so pro day performance combined and sometimes inconsistent play made him the kind of guy that would intrigue someone (the Eagles) as a UDFA, but no more."
4) How do you see his NFL career playing out?
"Well, the odds are obviously against him even having a career as a UDFA. But he does have the talent to make a roster, especially if he can show some situational usefulness early in his career -- either as a 5-technique end on running downs, or as an interior rusher on passing downs. When Schwartz says, "I want those defensive lineman to be attacking. I want those guys to be creating and wreaking some havoc and putting pressure on the quarterback. They're not gonna be playing at the line of scrimmage and grabbing guys and trying to keep the linebackers clean," that's the sort of thing that absolutely fits Vaeao's game. I believe he has the ability to do that for Schwartz, which means I think he has the ability to put together a career in a league that is increasingly based on defensive linemen's ability to disrupt."
5) Anything else to know?
"The most interesting thing about him is that he was WSU's first recruit off American Samoa by defensive line coach Joe Salave'a -- an area that has since become fertile recruiting ground for the Cougs. Vaeao earned his degree from WSU in four years, even though coming to the mainland from The Rock isn't always easy for guys. He's already succeeded in a huge way on that front, and he's an easy guy to root for because of it."
Thanks again to Jeff. Make sure to check out CougCenter.