Former Utah DL Leki Fotu is officially part of the "Bird Gang"

Ryan Kostecka

Utah fans will have the next four years to see how much Leki Fotu can continue to improve and thrive.

Leki Fotu's "football" career began in one of the wildest ways, on a different type of field and in a sport played without pads and helmets — yet there was a ball and goalposts.

Fotu spent his youth and teenage years playing rugby, a sport dominated by his native heritage. He was so talented that he actually had a stint with the U.S. National team and trained professionally in Europe for a little bit. But ultimately at Herriman High School in Utah as a senior, Fotu elected to put on the pads and helmet and see what sort of football player he could be.

“Leki Fotu is a force inside. He’s immovable. He’s a big, strong kid — light on his feet,” said Kyle Whittingham, Utah head coach. “He’s as good of a run stuffer as we’ve ever had here at Utah and on top of that he’s extremely bright as well.”

“Not only is he a run stopper but he’s got the athleticism to be a solid pass rusher for you,” said Utah defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley. “He’s played rugby at a high level, which has allowed him to move and work on that athleticism.”

Five years later and that gamble paid off as Fotu just inked his four-year rookie contract with the Arizona Cardinals, worth $4,068,472. His signing bonus and guaranteed money were each $773,472 and his average salary will be $1,017,118.

Fotu was chosen with the 114th overall pick in the fourth round, the fifth Ute to be taken in the 2020 NFL draft.

Regardless that it took that long for Fotu to come off the board, he's expected to play a massive role in the rebuild of Arizona's defensive, and defensive line more specifically.

Under second year defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, the Cardinals need to take a massive step forward after having one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season. Arizona gave up 402 yards per game, which was worst in the league, and 27.6 points per game, fifth-worst in the league.

After taking do-it-all defender Isaiah Simmons in the first round, the Cardinals added to that by getting another potential starter in Fotu, who is perfect in Joseph's scheme.

"Fotu's a nose tackle, defensive lineman, who reminded me a lot of Vita Vea, the first round pick out of Washington. He's a big, space eater, with tremendous quickness and athleticism for a big man, really think he has tremendous upside and a guy that can do a number of things for us," said Arizona Cardinals GM, Steve Keim.

Fotu won't be required to earn a lot of tackles or stats, but he will be asked to rush the quarterback when he finds himself in one-on-one situations. But if he is double-teamed, he must be able to occupy both offensive lineman and free up his teammates, something he showed progress at throughout his career.

He's still considered a work in progress, but has the potential to be great. If Joseph is willing work with Fotu on his technique and refine his overall skillset, he could be a massive difference maker in the Arizona defensive line and be the player the Cardinals have been searching for since Calais Campbell left.

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