When Dave Aranda came in as defensive coordinator, the long days of running a 4-3 defense were gone. Making the change to a 3-4 comes with a slew of challenges. Teaching new techniques to the front seven, and, most importantly, bringing in new personnel to fill the roles. One of the most important parts of the 3-4 defense is finding a nose tackle to swallow up blockers and allow the linebackers to run free. Aranda enters the 2019 season with two viable options, something he hasn’t had since arriving in Baton Rouge
The problem has been, Aranda hasn’t yet fully had one to complete the switch. Breiden Fehoko started there last year out of necessity, but is more of an end. Ed Alexander saw time there, but he left early only to go undrafted. Tyler Shelvin was the first true nose tackle since the switch, but played limited snaps in six games last year due to weight issues.
Fast forward to present day, Shelvin has lost considerable weight to prepare for a larger work load, and now Aranda has a new weapon at his disposal to anchor the middle of the line, one that has also managed his weight since arriving in January.
Siaki Ika, out of Salt Lake City, was never really on LSU’s radar for a good part of the 2019 season. A one-time BYU commit, it was an official visit in October that started to put the wheels into motion. Ika had been considered to be an Alabama lean, but as their numbers grew tighter, their interest faded, leaving LSU to fight off Florida and home-state Utah. It took until the first day of the early signing period, but Ika announced his commitment, signed the same day and was on campus a month later.
110 - 101 = Franchise Player. One of the best players to come along in years, if not decades. Odds of having a player in this category every year is slim. This prospect has “can’t miss” talent.
100 - 98 = Five-star prospect. One of the top 30 players in the nation. This player has excellent pro-potential and should emerge as one of the best in the country before the end of his career. There will be 32 prospects ranked in this range in every football class to mirror the first round of the NFL Draft.
97 - 90 = Four-star prospect. One of the top 300 players in the nation. This prospect will be an impact-player for his college team. He is an All-American candidate who is projected to play professionally.
89 - 80 = Three-star prospect. One of the top 10% players in the nation. This player will develop into a reliable starter for his college team and is among the best players in his region of the country. Many three-stars have significant pro potential.
79 - below = Two-star prospect. This player makes up the bulk of Division I rosters. He may have little pro-potential, but is likely to become a role player for his respective school.
247 Composite Rating: ****
247 Composite Ranking: .94
Ika used a strong junior season to fly up the ranks from the high-400s to inside the top 200. His senior year was yet another strong showcase of his skills that moved him into the top 150, finishing at No. 138 overall and the 13th defensive tackle in the nation.
While it is hard to judge his film due to the unlikelihood that any team in high school has someone to deal with a player of his size and strength, but Ika possesses one of the quickest bursts off the snap I have seen from most defensive tackles in general. Not just that, he has solid tracking speed in bringing down the ball carrier once he gets through the line, something that should be difficult for a man of his size. Another thing I love about Ika: When you watch most players with his size, there is some lethargy that becomes apparent when they are that physically dominant, even in highlight videos. Ika has this mean streak throughout and is a relentless player.
As we said, there is ample opportunity for playing time at nose tackle, even getting the starting nod. Between Ika and Shelvin, the performance of those two can keep Fehoko at end where he is a better fit with Rashard Lawrence on the other side. Like with Shelvin’s weight loss, Ika has done his part in that category, dropping from the 372 pounds he weighed upon arrival to a current 347 pounds. Combine that determination with his skillset and things may get special.
High End: Earns the starting spot and never looks back, carving his way to an NFL career like Haloti Ngata, one of fellow Tongan descent.
Low End: Problems with his weight arise and he finds himself playing in a rotation with Shelvin and any other newcomers.
Realistic: I can’t help but lean more towards the high end just based off of his commitment even since arriving on campus. Losing 25 pounds since his arrival and his skillset is a recipe for disaster for opposing SEC offenses. A starting front three of Fehoko-Ika-Lawrence (once he comes back healthy) can be one that is talked about for years to come.