When the 2018 NFL Draft came to an end Saturday afternoon, ESPN listed Hercules Mata’afa as the sixth-best player not taken after seven rounds at AT&T Stadium.
So it was no surprise that the Washington State defensive tackle found his NFL home within minutes of the undrafted free-agent market opening up. Shortly after the draft came to a close, Mata’afa posted a Minnesota Vikings logo on his Twitter account, indicating he’d agreed to a free agency deal with the NFC North club.
Most expected Mata’afa to become the third Cougar selected in the 2018 Draft, next to offensive lineman Cole Madison and quarterback Luke Falk, who were respectively taken Saturday by the Green Bay Packers and Tennessee Titans. Pro Football Focus had labeled him a top-60 prospect in the draft, equating to a second-round selection, and Chad Reuter of NFL.com projected that he’d be drafted in the fifth round. ESPN’s Todd McShay rated him No. 140 on a list of the top-300 prospects.
If teams were hesitant to take a chance on Mata’afa, it was likely because of his “tweener” status. Mata’afa played with a hand in the ground at the college level, usually as a defensive tackle, but he probably lacks the size and strength to do so at the next level. The Lahaina, Hawaii, native will likely move to a rush linebacker or interior linebacker in the NFL, but having strictly played on the D-line at WSU, he’d not had any experience at either spot.
Still, Mata’afa took a chance on himself and declared for the NFL Draft following his junior season, less than a week after WSU’s loss to Michigan State in the Holiday Bowl.
The Vikings are getting a consensus All-American who was also named the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year in 2017. Mata’afa led the Pac-12 with 22.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks, and was the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year, according to the Associated Press.
Other WSU players inked free agent deals Saturday:
- Rush linebacker Dylan Hanser signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent, according to Twitter.
- Rush linebacker Frankie Luvu signed with the New York Jets as an undrafted free agent, according to Twitter.
- Nose tackle Daniel Ekuale is joining the Cleveland Browns as a free agent per his retweet of WSU running backs coach Eric Mele’s Twitter post.
- Offensive lineman Cody O’Connell has not signed a deal, but says he has minicamp invitations from Indianapolis, Kansas City and Washington.
- Running back Jamal Morrow has minicamp invitations from Washington, Seattle and Arizona.
- Kicker Erik Powell has minicamp invites from Houston and Kansas City.