Hometown: Sacramento, Calif.
High School: Capital Christian
Key Offers: California, Ole Miss, Oregon, Stanford, USC, UCLA
Nifae Lealao is a blue-chip recruit whom the services believe can be an elite defensive tackle or defensive end in college. While ESPN considers Lealao among the nation's elite prospects, its rating of Lealao at No. 148 is the clear outlier, as the other three major services rank him between 36th and 54th. Overall, Lealao is ranked in a spot that could allow him to earn a fifth star in one or more of the services before the end of this recruiting cycle.
Nifae Lealao is an extremely athletic and long defensive lineman who has the measurables to perform various roles on the defensive front. Given the size advantage that he has over high school linemen at 6-foot-6 and 280 pounds, what is surprising is that he wins most of his battles with athleticism. Against the run, Lealao flashes quickness off the ball that creates quick penetration and disrupts plays at their inception. He excels at deftly eluding lineman, often by using a swim move, combined with an ever-present and impressive shoulder turn for a person of his size. When linemen attack him on a given side, that shoulder disappears, allowing the linemen to pass by, and giving Lealao a clear path to the ball.
When he does use his size and strength advantage, he toys with the opposition. He maintains good knee bend when engaging the opposition, giving him leverage and allowing him to control his opponent. At times when he must two-gap, he is effective at using his hands and long arms to create distance between himself and opposing linemen and swiftly disengage. As that two-gap responsibility becomes more necessary, as it surely will at times at the college level, Lealao will need to ensure that he utilizes his long arms against stronger BCS-level college lineman on a consistent basis.
Lealao has great down-the-line instincts with the short-area speed to get into position to tackle far-side ball carriers when or before they decide to turn up the field. After getting off of blocks, he redirects well and shows good acceleration while keeping proper leverage on the ball. On plays in between the tackles, Lealao closes quickly and eliminates cutback options for ball carriers.
Against the pass, Lealao significantly outmatches his opponents in both size and athleticism. He often powers by offensive linemen without needing to show an array of pass rush techniques. However, given his overall athleticism, Lealao has the potential to develop an impressive arsenal of pass rush moves once he gets to college. His long limbs, shoulder turn and great feet are traits that can lead to an impressive mix of inside pass rush techniques.
Lealao has tremendous athleticism for a player of his size, which can allow him to be an impact player as a 3-4 defensive end, as a one technique in a 4-man front, and even as a nose tackle in the 3-4. His versatility will allow teams to move him around and thus give their defenses additional flexibility. This versatility makes Lealao an extremely valuable prospect whose potential suitors include all of the West Coast's elite football programs.
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