After preparing for this exact moment, Kahlef Hailassie knew exactly how to turn the tide of the game.
UAB, down 20-17 with just over five minutes to go, had driven down to Western Kentucky’s 10-yard line and faced third and 10 in a Conference USA showdown. The Blazers quarterback caught the shotgun snap, faked a handoff, and threw to a receiver near the sideline he thought was going to be open.
But Hailassie, a Hilltoppers defensive back, was too smart. He patiently waited behind the goal line, and even let a receiver go toward the middle of the field. He knew he had help on that side and correctly anticipated where the pass was going to go anyway.
The moment the ball was in the air, Hailassie darted forward. He picked the pass off, which helped WKU maintain the lead and eventually seal the win.
Passing against Hailassie is difficult, and that won’t change in the NFL.
Kahlef Hailassie Stats and Highlights
Hailassie started his collegiate career at Oregon before ending up at WKU for the last two seasons. He started 26 games during that time and earned C-USA honorable mention honors as a sophomore before making the all-conference second team in 2022 as a junior.
Last year, Hailassie totaled 65 tackles, 44 solo, with eight tackles for loss, 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, three sacks, and two forced fumbles. He also intercepted two throws in 2021 while breaking up five passes and adding 57 tackles, 34 solo, with three tackles for loss.
Kahlef Hailassie Draft Projection
Hailassie is being projected to be drafted as high as the sixth round, and that seems right. Some are also predicting he’ll be selected in the seventh round or be an undrafted free agent.
Kahlef Hailassie Draft Profile
Among cornerbacks who played 20% of the most snaps in the country, Hailassie was graded in the top 50 by Pro Football Focus for overall defense and coverage. He was also tied for third with total stops that counted as failures for the offense and tied for 10th in total tackles.
Among the 66 times he was targeted last season, Hailassie allowed 39 receptions for a 59% reception rate. Those catches led to 429 yards and three touchdowns and an NFL passer rating of 80.9.
Hailassie played a vast majority of his snaps at cornerback, but he could play in a variety of roles for an NFL team.
That includes nickel. He was talented at shedding blocks and tackling ball carriers in college as evidenced by his stats. He could also play some safety, as he occasionally covered deep zones and even blitzed a few times which led to sacks.
He didn’t have the best coverage grades compared to some of the prospects who will go in the first round, but he did read plays well like when he intercepted that pass against UAB.
He’s fluid when he drops into coverage, often keeping his eyes in the backfield, and properly anticipates where he needs to go based on what he sees from offensive alignments.
There’s little reason to think Hailassie can’t contribute to a pro secondary in some capacity.