WE GOT SUUUUUUUUUU..........’A-FILO!
Su’a-Filo was the top pick in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft when the Texans grabbed him at 33rd overall as a uber-athletic lineman from UCLA. He played left tackle for the Bruins, but was always projected as a guard in the NFL due to his height and length at just 6’-4” with 33 3/8” arms. Most saw him as a 1st or 2nd round pick.
His time in Houston was a disappointment though. He struggled with injuries during his first two years, and when he was on the field, he wasn’t very good. In 2016 and 2017 his ability to stay healthy improved, but his play did not. His PFF grades in his four year career are 43.4, 42.8, 44.9, and 35.8. That 35.8 grade was better than just two qualifying guards in 2017 — Ethan Pocic and Jeremy Vujnovich. Not great.
However, the Texans reportedly felt like he was starting to hit his stride over the back half of their 2017 season.
“He’s gotten better,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Over the years, he’s improved. He’s a better player.”
Su’a-Filo has 41 starts over his first four years in the league, so he’s about as experienced as a 27 year old lineman can get. While his PFF grades certainly don’t reflect it he was regarded as a pretty solid run blocker during his time in Houston. His struggles primarily came in pass protection where he too often lunged at his opponent, getting off balance and giving up an easy pressure.
His athleticism theoretically fits well with what the Titans want to do with their zone blocking scheme under Matt LaFleur and offensive line coach Keith Carter so I can completely understand the interest here. Mike Vrabel, Pat O’Hara, and Shane Bowen all worked with him in Houston over the past few years so the Titans certainly know what they’re going to get with Su’a-Filo. The Texans ran a good bit of zone during his time there so this shouldn’t be a big transition for him scheme-wise.
The interesting question now is what — if anything — does this mean for Quinton Spain’s contract situation. We still have not heard anything regarding interest from other teams in signing him which is somewhat surprising to me. If we doesn’t have an offer by April 20th, the Titans will officially have his rights for 2018 and can either release him or bring him in to camp for the $1.9M tender offer they gave him a few weeks ago. Assuming Spain returns, I would expect to see an open competition at left guard featuring him, Kevin Pamphile, and Xavier Su’a-Filo. I would expect Kline to be penciled in as the starter at right guard given the contract they just signed him to, but I suppose he could be ousted as well if two of these guys were to really show out in camp.
The other competition that this may be hinting at is at center. We know that Josh Kline can play center if needed — he did some snapping in the preseason in 2017. Vrabel mentioned Pamphile’s ability to play center as well in this article from Jim Wyatt on the Titans website.
“We like his versatility inside,” Vrabel said of Pamphile. “He is going to provide competition to the guard spots, and certainly center. He can snap the ball. Any time you are versatile, it gives you a chance. … Kevin is one of those guys who can maybe do more than one job. So when you get down to it and you are building a roster, you are like, OK, this guy can do two jobs, this guy can do one, this guy can do three. We need the guy who can do three because you have only so many roster spots, especially come Sunday.”
2017 6th round pick Corey Levin also was used as a center in camp. That could mean competition for Ben Jones at the pivot given his struggles last season. The Titans are pretty well locked in at the tackle spots, but the additions of Pamphile and Su’a-Filo mean the incumbents on the interior will have some real competition for their jobs in camp. The interior line position battles will be fun to watch this summer.