This is the second in a series. Between now and April’s draft, we’ll profile as many prospects as possible.
A first-team (AP) All-American last season, Utah’s Star Lotulelei is expected to be a top-10 pick. At 6-4, 320, he’s played nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end for the Utes, who showed three- and four-man fronts.
Lotulelei had five sacks and 10 tackles for loss as a senior. A two-time first-team All-Pac 12 selection, Lotulelei won the Morris Trophy in 2011, given to the conference’s top defensive lineman, as voted on by starting offensive linemen.
He will have to answer some questions about his journey to the NFL. Lotulelei originally signed on to play at BYU out of high school, but he did not qualify academically and instead delivered furniture for a short while before deciding to attend Snow Junior College. After one season there, his weight ballooned and he temporarily decided to end his playing career.
“I was real discouraged and depressed and needed to figure out what I was going to do,” Lotulelei told The Salt Lake Tribune.
But he gave the game one more shot, signed on to play at Utah and now finds himself on the cusp of a big paycheck.
Because of his roundabout journey to the NFL, Lotulelei will be 24-years-old as a rookie. Here is a quick video with details on some of the things I mentioned above.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Here’s what one scout had to say, per Pro Football Weekly:
“Star Lotulelei has a 30-plus (inch) vertical at 320 pounds. He’s athletic and can run. He can rush the passer. I think he will get better with coaching at our level. They line him up as more of a nose, but he is athletic enough to be a three-technique. As strong as he is working half a man, he is going to create pressure.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper has Lotulelei fourth on his big board:
You can’t block him with one guy. He absorbs so much blocking help and frees up others, but he’s not just a clogger, because he can show off a great burst and the ability to destroy plays. Has a great sense for disrupting the run game. Quick off the ball with great upper- and lower-body strength. Coaches rave about him.
ESPN’s Todd McShay has him first:
Lotulelei is the most complete defensive lineman in the class in terms of physical tools. He dominates interior offensive linemen with his blend of quickness and power. He shows strong hands, nimble feet and the ability to discard blockers quickly, and he has impressive lateral range. Lotulelei needs some polish as a pass-rusher, but his natural gifts are clearly a cut above.
NFL.com compares him to Haloti Ngata:
This active wide-body struggled with his weight and passion for the game while in Junior College, but Lotulelei (pronounced lo-too-leh-lay) has worked hard over the past couple of seasons to become the Pac-12’s best defensive lineman (20.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks over the last two years) and a probable first-round selection at nose tackle.
Josh Norris of Rotoworld.com has Lotulelei third overall:
Pegged as a pure nose tackle, but that would be a disservice to his versatility. Can play along the front and shows agile feet for someone his size. Can be dominant for a stretch of plays and rarely took a seat on the bench at Utah.
AN EAGLES SLANT
Chip Kelly said during his most recent press conference that he prefers running a 3-4 defense. That might not happen instantly, but the Eagles are at least looking at some kind of hybrid look in 2013. And Kelly should be somewhat familiar with Lotulelei. He was Oregon’s offensive coordinator when the Ducks recruited Lotulelei.
“A lot of good football players in this league, but not people you have to specifically game-plan for,” Kelly said. “When you play Utah, and you’re facing their defense, you’re going to have to specifically game-plan for him.”
Howie Roseman has also spoken at length about finding versatile players. Lotulelei would seem to fit the bill with his ability to play nose tackle in a 3-4, defensive tackle in a 4-3 and maybe even the five-technique DE spot (in between the tackle and tight end in a 4-3 under).
One thing that might be working against Lotulelei at No. 4 is that this appears to be a loaded class of defensive tackles. Daniel Jeremiah of NFL.com recently suggested that as many as 10 DTs could go in the top-40 picks. If the Eagles don’t see a major gap between Lotulelei and some of the others on their board, they could go in a different direction.
Kiper has the Raiders taking Lotulelei at No. 3.
McShay has him going first to the Chiefs.
Norris has Lotulelei going to Oakland.
Tony Pauline of USA Today has the Eagles taking him fourth.
Rob Rang of CBSSports.com has the Birds getting Lotulelei.
And so does Jeremiah.
Here’s a look at Lotulelei against Washington, courtesy of DraftBreakdown.com.
At the 4:52 mark, you can see his powerful bull-rush against the left guard. Note that Lotulelei is lined up as a three-technique DT on the play.
At 6:59, he uses his hands to again push the pocket and finishes with a sack.
At 8:43, he lines up at nose tackle in a 3-4 look and pushes the pocket.
At 9:02, he takes on a double-team and gets great penetration on a run play. And at 10:30, he slams the offensive lineman to the ground.