When the underclassman deadline was near last year, there was a lot of buzz around an under the radar defensive tackle from Utah named Star Lotulelei. The feeling was that Lotulelei would have been a first rounder had he declared but that he could be a big time player to watch for the following year. Lotulelei entered his senior year as the top defensive tackle in the class and had a great year in his efforts to stay that way. The medical check at the combine revealed a heart condition that has made people step back a second and evaluate the situation, but his agent came out confidently predicting that Lotulelei would workout at his pro day on March 20, which has worked to minimize the issue the moment. Lotulelei is hoping to complete the draft process by going from pole to pole as the best defensive tackle prospect in the country.
Star Lotulelei is the prototype 4-3 1-technique nose guard or 2-technique tackle lined head up on the guard who can demand double teams, but contribute on all three downs as a threat to rush the passer. He can also be a 0-gap nose tackle or a 5-technique end in the 3-4 and in both cases, gives an extra element to the position. As a nose tackle, he has better range and athleticism there to rush the passer and as an end, he gives an extra element of power to control the line of scrimmage. No matter the position, Lotulelei’s first job is to force teams to use more than one guy to stop him allowing teammates to get better match ups. After that, he is still expected to make plays on his own and has shown that ability. Lotulelei had good production for the Utes, but teams definitely altered their strategy to try to avoid Lotulelei. In the NFL, Lotulelei should be surrounded by more talent and if teams are forced to try to scheme around him, his teammates should capitalize in a big way.
The first thing that stands out about Lotulelei is his impressive strength. He holds up well at the point of attack against single or double teams and periodically rag dolls opponents. Lotulelei also shows impressive quickness and range for a defensive tackle and can move down the line well. He displays an impressive bull rush and he is strong enough that if he just told his opponent what he was going to do, they would have a difficult time doing anything to stop it. In addition, he has a good push-pull move and swims well. The speed element if an under appreciated part of his game and he can beat guys with quickness and accelerates well. If teams take it for granted, he will knife his way into the backfield and blow up the play or just kill the quarterback. Lotulelei has the ability to disengage from blocks almost at will. When his motor is running, he has the ability to take over games for stretches and be the best player on the field. Lotulelei has a good sense of timing when it comes to trying to deflect passes and should only improve in the NFL.
Star Lotulelei has the ability to dominate opponents and should with his ability in any situation where is in a one on one situation, but does not always bring the effort necessary to do it. His motor runs hot and cold and there are some questions about his overall stamina. He needs to work to be able to give a team more productive snaps and give more of those flashes of a true superstar.
Too often he seems satisfied with holding his ground and just not going backward. He needs to fire out lower from his stance and take more advantage of his strength and power. While he shows he can throw guys around even when he plays tall, he is working much harder than he needs to which may contribute to him tiring out earlier in games. As often as he was able to get in the backfield and be in position to get sacks, he needs to do a better job securing the sack. He can come in so hard that he is out of control and needs to work on breaking down better.
Assuming nothing serious comes from the situation with his heart, Lotulelei is the best nose guard/nose tackle in the draft and having someone who demands double teams, can rush the passer and contribute in multiple schemes makes him incredibly valuable. As a result, Lotulelei could end up being the 1st pick of the draft to the Kansas City Chiefs if they want him to play at a few different spots on their defensive line but Lotulelei is a serious candidate for at least half of the teams in the Top 10. Lotulelei’s style of play and impact could be similar to Ndamukong Suh. While Lotulelei did not have the college career Suh did, his fit and style in the NFL is unbelievably similar.
Star Lotulelei has been cleared by doctors to perform a full workout at his Pro Day