The Laiatu Latu Dilemma

April 20th, 2024

UCLA DE Laiatu Latu.

Before readers come after Joe with pitchforks, spears and lit torches, allow Joe to dream here, huh? Please?

Maybe, just maybe, enough NFL teams are so spooked by Laiatu Latu’s neck injury that he falls to near No. 20 where the Bucs could realistically go get him.

It’s fair to ask why the Bucs would not be worried about Latu’s neck if a dozen or so other teams are. Well, it only takes one.

As seen years ago with Drew Brees when he attempted to return after an ugly shoulder injury, the Dolphins had him but a team doctor wouldn’t green light the medical exam. It only took one doctor to give a thumbs-up, the same doctor who worked with the slimy Saints and Sean Payton. As they say, the rest is history.

Then-Dolphins coach Nick Saban didn’t last much longer in the NFL because he didn’t have a quarterback (same as it ever was). Payton now had one and he might be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a result. If the Dolphins would have cleared Brees, who knows, Saban might still be in Miami where the NFL, unlike college, has a salary cap.

Payton? He might now be working full-time for FOX.

Latu is clearly the best pass rusher in the draft. Back in 2020 Washington (where he was teammates with future Bucs Joe Tryon-Shoyinka and Cade Otton) Latu suffered a neck injury in practice.

He later had vertebrae fused to try to bring back lingering numbness. The surgery failed. Several doctors told Latu to give up football or risk a major medical issue.

Latu admitted to Steve Wyche of NFL Network (video below) he struggled emotionally being forced to give up football. But he bounced back emotionally by playing rugby. (LOL)

“Got emotional at times,” Latu said. “Got into a dark place at times.”

Latu finally found a doctor who would clear him to play football and transferred to UCLA. It was the same specialist who performed neck procedures on Danielle Hunter and Peyton Manning.

At the combine, Latu said he had not received any negative feedback or concern from NFL teams about his neck. This seems dubious, but there has been quite a bit of time since the combine, nearly two months, for teams to get back to Latu on his medicals.

A doctor of physical therapy, Kyle Trimble, wrote a piece for the Cover 1 website that Latu’s injury is similar to what Cowboys linebacker Leighton Vander Esch dealt with at Boise State.

As Trimble pointed out, Vander Esch was later a first-round pick but the neck often gave him problems.

Vander Esch’s biggest issue with the Cowboys was staying on the field. Only twice did Vander Esch play in more than 14 regular season games in his six-year career. He retired this offseason.

So will Latu be like Vander Esch and only be around for six years?

Well, Joe will put it like this: Will Baker Mayfield be around in six years? Will Todd Bowles? Will Vita Vea? Will Antoine Winfield? This Bucs team will look drastically different, good or bad, in six years.

If the Bucs can get four or five strong years out of Latu with the current talent on the roster, that will go a long way.

The Bucs are one strong edge rusher away from having a dominant defensive line.

58 Responses to “The Laiatu Latu Dilemma”

  1. Dadgumit Says:

    Betcha cant say “The Laiatu Latu Dilemma”, three times faster than a dilemma.

  2. MelvinJunior Says:

    If Barton & JPJ are both long gone, & Laiatu is still there for the taking at #26 (which he won’t be), then you have to take him. 💯

  3. Buchead Says:

    Why should we gamble on a damaged player when there are less risky players who are just as good? Hell, that’s how we ended up with JTS – we gambled that he’d catch up despite sitting out a year for covid, but he hasn’t.

  4. Pepsi Says:

    This will be my number 1 hope on draft day. If Latu falls to 20+, I hope licht starts making phone calls

  5. Oxycondomns Says:

    Feel like bucs have too many holes to risk this guy getting injured and being out for the year in his rookie season. That 5 or 6 good years could be after 2 bad years of injury and rehab. This is the type of player a team that is already rich in talent cant take a risk on.

  6. OR Buc Says:

    We will draft a DE in the 1st. Bucs know they didn’t address it in free agency, let go of Shaq and now have to find a top tier replacement.

  7. 74 Bucs Fan Says:

    Buchead Says:
    April 20th, 2024 at 12:31 am
    Why should we gamble on a damaged player when there are less risky players who are just as good? Hell, that’s how we ended up with JTS – we gambled that he’d catch up despite sitting out a year for covid, but he hasn’t.
    Umm – there are players just as good? Maybe Verse but that’s it. Latu produced, JTS not so much.

  8. Capt.Tim Says:

    The kid is so talented. I feel so bad or him.
    But no way I draft him.

    Best DE, rush LB, Guard, or Center available.
    Who doesnt have used neck bones.

    Yes, some of our current talent will be gone in 6 years. But we dont want the whole damn team folding up shop in 6 years. Draft a player we get 8-12 years out of.
    Thats called continuity. Some leave, while others climb aboard.

  9. Capt.Tim Says:

    Fused neck bones*

  10. MadMax Says:

    Moh Kamara with one of our two 3rds and call it a day.

  11. I remember 21 Says:

    I personally just don’t like the idea of drafting a broke neck guy to play one of the most dangerous contact sports known to man (crazy he played one of the others when he couldn’t get cleared). What I like even LESS is trading up to take said guy. What would we have to trade to move up 6 spots, a 2nd rounder? A 2nd and then some? Too big a risk for a risky pick to begin with. Yes we need Edge/ OLB help in the worst way, but all the Joes talk about is how bowles somehow gets 48 sacks anyhow. And that’s all that counts, right? The statistics on the page? We get passed on all up and down the field every week, but because we rank well in points allowed, “everything is fine,” right? Nevermind we were .500 the last two seasons under said defensive mastermind with 2 top 15 paid corners… Bottom line is there are lots of different ways to build a team, areas to focus on and neglect, places you spend money vs don’t (remember this genius wants to be a run first team with two $20M+/year WRs & a 3rd round RB? 🤯🤯). The time to get Edge help was free agency & the trade market, but Licht & co weren’t able or willing to do that. We don’t need to get desperate like the last guy at the bar at closing time now that the draft has rolled around, that’s a recipe for taking home an uggo you live to regret. Maybe we draft the best or second best Center (also a position of NEED btw) and use one of the best young OLines in the league to mask not having any bonafide sack masters. I’m sorry, but the league is dangerous enough for mostly healthy guys. I don’t want to go the route of taking a guy that ALREADY has injury issues again (does nobody remember Clayborn & Bowers?) and hoping for the best. I wouldn’t sign up for LVE’s career either tbh. We made our bed at OLB at this point and it’s time to wallow in it.

  12. heyjude Says:

    Sorry, I really like him but we just can’t play around with this. Latu had a serious injury and neck fusion surgery. I would hate to see him badly injured again just because we want to get a couple of years out of him. Doesn’t seem fair to him either.

  13. Joe in Michigan Says:

    I guess we’ll know on draft night how his medical evaluations went. If good, he’ll be gone before the Bucs draft, barring a trade-up. If bad, I won’t be upset if the Bucs go a different direction, although my favorite part about football is a fierce pass rush.

  14. Bucs Guy Says:

    If Turner and Verse are gone, take Latu if available. There are no other Edge rushers worthy a 1st rd pick. Latu played 2 years with UCLA. It is my understanding he didn’t have any neck issues or miss any games during that time. So why do teams have a concern? If he was going to have a problem, wouldn’t you have seen it by now? Is he on the verge of being paralyzed every time he walks onto the field?

    Not a doctor or in the medical career field, so I’m just asking the obvious question.

  15. Alanbucsfan Says:

    Good story, but Latu is best Defensive player in draft – he’ll likely be a top 10 pick

  16. Drunkinybor Says:

    I’ve been saying the more I rewatch our good teams of the past. The more I see how horrendously terrible our defensive ends have been. De should be our top priority and I think it is. If he’s near 21 I believe we will go get him. However I think he’s gone by pick 13

  17. Drunkinybor Says:

    To the why should we gamble. JTS neck was just fine on draft night amd beyond how did that work out. It’s a crapshoot anyway. I would rather gamble on today’s medical science and the best defensive player in the entire draft class

  18. A Bucs Fan Says:

    Average career length of a 1st round pick is nine years. Wasted pick and short sighted take

  19. Beeej Says:

    Baldy thinks Latu is going in the first few picks. The reason? There AREN’T other edges just as good

  20. Todd Says:

    Hey Kirk Cousins…did you read this article?

    You’re going to SUCK this year!

    Injuries like yours are not so easy to come back from. As Shaq!

  21. Todd Says:

    Ask Shaq…

  22. BucsFan Says:

    Latu will not be around at 26

  23. Beejezus-belt Says:

    Joe, first was that a Talking Heads reference about Miami, nice. Second, JPP suffered a neck injury and played pretty damn well. I know you can’t compare one man’s injury to another but if he plays at a high level with those injuries and he clears medically then the Bucs need to do what they need to do. Look the Bucs got 5 years out of Devin White, I wouldn’t call him bust. He was a large part of winning a Super Bowl and played well 4 years and then I think he wore out his welcome. If you get four or five years of Latu and perhaps win an another Super Bowl with the most important player on the defense. Licht could draft a healthy pass rusher and he very well bust. I would be inclined to gamble on the best pass rusher available in this draft at the 26th pick. It’s probably 50/50 anyway that late.

  24. Pickgrin Says:

    Picks #26 + #89 (late 3rd) gets the Bucs up to pick #20 (Steelers) or #21 (Dolphins).

    If Latu makes it to #20 – then Licht needs try and work out a trade up deal with either of those 2 teams.

    Philly picks at #22 and will almost certainly take Latu there if he’s still on the board.

    Latu fixes our Edge need with authority. He is easily the best pass rusher in this draft and perhaps the best pass rusher to come out in the last 2-3 years.

    Think Bosa – Josh Allen – Brian Burns…. Thats the kind of talent Latu is.

    Getting a top end pass rusher (premium position) for the cost of a #20 overall draft pick (and thus 5 years on a cheap rookie deal) would be an absolute steal.

    Latu played 2 straight years and 25 games with no problems after getting cleared to play by UCLA.

    These players – especially those with known physical “issues” are poked and prodded and stress tested and Xrayed and MRIed nine ways to Sunday at the combine. Plus the Bucs had Latu in for an all day visit at OBP where they had the opportunity to run any additional medical tests and and ask any questions they deem appropriate.

    Anyone hear even a hint of a rumor since all that medical evaluation at the combine of any team taking Latu off their board due to medical concerns?
    Me neither….

    So it wasn’t just ONE doctor who cleared Latu to play – its ALL the doctors at the combine including the Bucs own medical staff who gave a thumbs up.

  25. Ramon Benitez Says:

    Depends on whether or not he still suffers from any lingering paresthesias. cervical fusion typically has good results for the average person as opposed to lumbar fusion…this is my medical opinion in a vacuum without knowing the exact details of his case.

  26. KnoxvilleBuc Says:

    Way too talented not too take. If he’s at 20 we have to consider him because he’s instantly ahead of anyone on our roster from a pass rushing standpoint.

  27. SB~LV Says:

    DON’T !

  28. Irishmist Says:

    They actually did a study on 10 football players following neck fusion. 5 didn’t return to play at all. The other 5 played between 1 and 8 years afterwards, with an average of 3 years before they retired. It’s not a good bet to waste a first round pick on a player who most likely won’t make it to a second contract.

  29. SB~LV Says:

    Under the scenario in this case if the neck became a career limiting issue the cost of moving to 20 is actually 3 picks
    The 20 pick
    The pick given up in the trade
    The pick later used to replace the hole in the roster
    Now if he was there @26 I would draft him

  30. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    No damaged goods….please

  31. Hodad Says:

    Everyone is hoping for an edge rusher. Broke neck, doesn’t matter. I’m thinking we need to score more points. I’d like to see us grab a top flight receiver with our first pick. Someone who could become the Cooper Kupp of Coen’s version of L.A.s offense. You remember Cooper Kupp right? He sent us packing at home beating Winfield Jr. with a big catch that sent the Rams to the SB. Bucs need to score more, early, and often. To often the Bucs couldn’t muster 20 points. Not going to win games with defense alone. Last time the Bucs offense was scary is when we had three good receivers. Evans, Godwin, and Brown. We need that third guy.

  32. Boss Says:

    You don’t gamble with the first pick unless you already have a stacked roster and SBs under your belt. Hard no.

  33. ChiBuc Says:

    We only got 5 yrs out of Shaq, 2 of note, and we are still paying off dead cap money on him. I’m more than happy to “risk” a rookie contract for 5 yrs of service from the best defensive player in this draft, Latu

  34. Trey Says:

    Do whatever it takes. We need this stud!

  35. catcard202 Says:

    Just my opinion, You generally don’t roll the dice on a 1st round pick/1st rd coin
    on a guy with medicals screaming “little to no chance of staying healthy” & “college neck injury caused 2yr retirement from football”.

  36. stpetebucfan Says:


    Way to jerk me back to reality. LOL What about Latu? Indeed. I’m embarrassed to admit that hadn’t occured to me when it’s obviously the most important part of the story.

    Of course I understand those who will say it’s HIS choice and SOME team will select him….it’s a hard moral conundrum. I see both sides…on one had I respect INDIVIDUAL rights, if he wishes to risk being a quad that’s HIS call…I truly RESPECT that…but I’m not sure it means I have to participate in it.

  37. Tony Marks Says:

    if he’s there then there’s a viable rationale for taking the risk but trading up to get him?

    Just amplifies the risk. if the other doctors were right then you burn two picks

  38. Onetime007 Says:

    Joe why do you suggest trading up in almost every article your write? It’s dumb to trade up for a talented but medically flawed player. Stop w/ the, “if he’s there, (insert player name), Licht should get on the phones and trade up!”

  39. Ryan Smith Says:

    Well see what NFL front offices really think if his neck injury come the 25th. If he makes it of 1st round it cause none of them think he can keep that level of play up for longer than 3/4 years. Some team in 2nd i. 3rd might take him even if they know they got 4 year’s tops.

  40. Gipper Says:

    If Latu is still around at 26, have to take him. If not, focus on best pure CENTER available in draft. With #2, select best LG remaining. With #3, select best RG remaining. Mauch has to get stronger. If he doesn’t work the weights in the offseason, he needs to be pushed.

  41. Booger Says:

    Laiatu at #26 is no more a risk at that number than any of the other remaining players left, at that point… If both Barton & JPJ are gone. I’d rather have either one of them since the odds of them ‘hitting’ & being a plug on our OL while helping solidify it (along with Wirfs) for the next 10+years!!!! Laiatu’s potential ‘upside’ at #26 is a total no-brainer. What are the odds that ANY of the remaining players at that ‘pick range’ are still going to be around after year 6 anyway… Not very good. If all three of them are gone… I’m in favor of trading back ONLY IF I can get a 2025 1st Rounder from SOMEBODY, preferably NE, Raiders, or Denver, since all three of those have a very high chance of being in the Top-10, & with great odds of being a Top-5. We can use those TWO ‘first-round’ picks to REALLY build this roster further, while also parlaying-it into even MORE draft capital for 2026, in order to draft our future ‘franchise’ QB… And, have him on the ‘right’ timeline with a LOADED Roster, while still on his ‘rookie-level’ contract.

  42. Jake been there since the beginning Says:

    Wow I’m not sure the exact details of the neck fusion but I can say for sure that I had L4 L5 and S1 fused and I really don’t like it. It’s been 15 months and I might be about to have another operation. Before the operation I could work and now it’s hard sweeping.

  43. lambchopp Says:


    You gamble because the goal is a Super Bowl, not giving a player a 2nd contract. If Latu is there, his talent is too good to pass up. Medical procedures have advanced fully and seeing how dominant this guy is, I’m a convert. JTS sat out of football for a year, so that’s a different situation. This guy can produce.

  44. lambchopp Says:

    In today’s NFL with high salaries, teams want to rent players on rookie deals and make a SB push. That’s the way things are and will be from here on out. If you happen to be a future HOFer then your shelf life is a lot longer with the team that drafted you.

  45. Shane Callahan Says:

    Too big of a medical risk for a 1st round pick even though he a moisture. It’s truly a dilemma though.

  46. Letsbucinggo Says:

    The only way this guy falls to us at #26 is everyone else is uneasy about his neck. Remember Brees was a QB and not crashing into 300 lb offensive lineman every down. I would say buyer beware!

  47. SlyPirate Says:

    I’d rather trade up for Verse, draft DeJean, or trade down for an IOL.

    Latu’s tape doesn’t do anything for me.

  48. Letsbucinggo Says:

    He was the highest producing edge rusher of the big three in the first round. He definitely has the resume for a top ten pick.

  49. GhostofBrady Says:

    Lots of red flags. Good value as a filler and learner in year 1. Then contributor in year 2. With potential to start in year 3. First round is hype. I think great value at late 2nd or 3rd rounder. I wouldn’t be against so long as we do post-draft trades to fill in other needs. I would prefer WR in round 2 and CB in round 1.

  50. MadMax Says:

    Man wouldnt be nice if we landed Powers AND Frazier? 1st and 2nd pick…let Hainsey bu the C and G positions….geeze that would be sweet.

    Trade down I guess, we need more picks for this to happen.

    I hear KC is looking for a WR….could probably land their #32 and an extra 3rd…

  51. MadMax Says:

    “wouldnt it” sorry…..but yeah that wouldnt be nice to other teams lol

  52. ScottyMack Says:

    Sure, go ahead and dream Joe. He’ll be long gone before the Bucs even think about trading up to get him.

  53. Dave Pear Says:

    Todd Bowels can make any strong man seem weak.

  54. Buccos Says:

    Trade up to draft Bowers, a future HoF player. Give up the farm to get that guy. We have wasted enough first round picks on defense. Let’s score some points

  55. ModHairKen Says:

    Keith McCants.

  56. ModHairKen Says:

    Jake, you need Dr. Nizam Razack.

  57. Esteban85 Says:

    Would love to have this guy on our team. It’s a pipe dream but hey a Joe can dream! I wouldn’t want to trade up for Latu but if teams got so spooked that he dropped to 26 then of course we should grab him. I would trade up for Verse but it would be interesting to hear Lichts opinions on this kid.

  58. kaimaru Says:

    Here is the thing people aren’t thinking about. Vander Esch was a linebacker. He was hitting people at top speed while they were going at top speed. Edge rarely does that. LBs close, edge doesn’t. Other than safety and RBs up to full speed, LBs is the most violent position. Latu will be fine like Danielle Hunter