My previous article focused on Pac-10 offensive players that surpassed expectations by excelling in college despite not being considered top prospects coming out of high school or junior college. I consider a top prospect to be one who has received a ranking of four or five stars from Rivals.[details]
Notes: Last name is pronounced "PIE-uh." Born in the Tongan Islands to a Tongan mother and Samoan father, Stephen did not speak English until coming to the U.S. when he was 16. A standout rugby player growing up in Utah, he played only one year of high school football (also competed in the shot put). Attended Snow College (Utah) for two years (redshirted in 2006) before making an immediate impact for the Beavers in '08. Started 12-of-13 games at right tackle, notching 41 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks with one pass batted down and a forced fumble. Did not start against Oregon because of an inflamed bursa sac in his right knee. Was co-recipient of the Morris Trophy (Pacific-10 Conference's top defensive lineman) in '09 when he started all 13 games and posted 43-8½-3 (all against UCLA) with four forced fumbles. Named the Pac-10 Defensive MVP in '10 after posting 45-10-6 with two batted passes and four forced fumbles in 12 starts at left defensive tackle. Set a school record with nine career forced fumbles. Team captain. Tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during Senior Bowl practice, underwent surgery and did not run or jump at the Combine.
Positives: Rare weight-room strength - squats 600 pounds and broke the Combine bench-press record with 49 reps of 225 pounds. Sudden, athletic and powerful. Fires off the snap with leverage. Flashes hand strength and quickness to stack defenders and win one-on-one battles. Can play in gaps and create a surge, collapsing the pocket with his bull rush. Grew up playing rugby and has excellent speed and movement skills for a 300-pounder. Good balance, body control and change of direction. Plays hard, chases and shows closing burst to finish. Heavy hitter. Experienced, durable, three-year starter. Strong intangibles - motivated, hardworking and well-respected. Is coachable with good football aptitude.
Negatives: Not innately instinctive and does not have a good feel for the game - can be a tick slow feeling pressure and processing what he sees. Lacks ideal height and sheer mass and frame appears nearly maxed out. Is built like an oversized linebacker and length is just average - needs to shoot his hands consistently to keep blockers off his frame and can do a better job consistently locking out. Tends to play short-armed and does not rip off blocks. Needs to develop counter moves. Tight hips. Short-stepper. Inconsistent - disappears for stretches, and production was average. Language was a barrier earlier on.
Summary: A thickly built, decorated, upfield penetrator with brute strength, explosive power, natural leverage and disruptive quickness. Is a polarizing prospect whose advocates point to the constant double- and triple-teams he faced while detractors say he is too often neutralized, looks lost and does not convert his skills into enough production. Could fit best as a three-technique in a one-gapping, 4-3 scheme such as that of the Bears, Colts, Saints or Buccaneers and slide along the line depending on the situation. While he does not have ideal length for an odd front, could appeal to some aggressive, slanting 3-4 teams such as the Ravens and Steelers given his unique skill set.