12 Aug Isaiah Pola-Mao, Southern California
Senior | 6’4″ 205 lbs | Phoenix, Arizona | 06/21/1999
Isaiah Pola-Mao is a versatile defender with a high football IQ and the ability to key and trigger quickly versus the run and the pass. Pola-Mao is inconsistent in man coverage and his footwork from a backpedal is a work in progress.
Isaiah Pola-Mao entered USC as a 4-star recruit from the state of Arizona. He earned Max Preps All-American and USA Today All-Arizona honors as a senior in high school. Pola-Mao comes from a family of professional athletes; his father played arena football in the 90’s, his uncle is Troy Polamalu, and his great uncle is Kennedy Pola, the Vikings’ running backs coach. Pola-Mao earned captain status as a junior in 2020, his second year starting in 2020. Pola-Mao lined up at a wide variety of positions in the USC defense (free safety, box safety, slot defender, edge rusher) showing his versatility and smarts, especially in zone coverage and as a box defender against the run.
- Great feel for the game, consistently makes the right read and finds the ball carrier.
- Takes great angles in his approach to tackle, tracking the runners near the hip.
- Shows a good understanding of run fits, when he needs to force the ball carrier back inside or attack from inside-out.
- A very good alley-runner: shortens his stride and accelerates through the ball carrier instead of breaking down.
- Has the length and levers to keep himself clean when disengaging blockers.
- A quick processor in zone, he collisions the receivers and makes it easy on his teammates when passing the WR off.
- Does a great job understanding where to go vs broken offensive plays to mitigate blown coverages from teammates.
- Has good long speed in the open field to recover and chase down crossing routes.
Areas To Improve:
- Inconsistent technique when taking on blockers: pad level and tendency to bounce off blocker instead of holding ground leads to some longer run plays than necessary.
- Falls off far too many tackles, doesn’t do a good enough job driving his feet after contact; needs to finish tackles at a higher frequency.
- Too high in his back-pedal and feet come too far up off the ground, leading to slow transitions.
- Struggles to gain ground out of his breaks even when he has solid footwork, lack of short area burst
- Struggles in man-to-man coverage in the slot, not quick enough to mirror and use his length effectively in those situations.
- Started to gain more and more ground as a post safety in the center-field; needs to show that can be a part of his game so he’s not pigeon-holed as a hybrid LB.
- Can clean up his footwork breaking forward from a back-pedal.
- Can showcase man coverage skills on TEs.
- 2 different shoulder surgeries in 2017 and 2018
Right now, Isaiah Pola-Mao projects as a strong safety in a scheme that will ask him to play plenty of underneath coverages and get in on the run game. He is serviceable in quarters, but deep safety coverages (deep middle and deep half) are not currently a selling point. His high football IQ ensure that he will always be around the ball and making plays. But the higher value skills like man coverage will need to be improved before he’s looked at seriously as a draftable defensive back prospect. His size and speed will always be a valuable commodity and if he doesn’t improve in coverage, he is a dime linebacker/special teams player, perhaps getting his name called in the mid to later rounds.