NFL Draft Profile: Utah DT Star Lotulelei

This is the second in a series. Between now and April’s draft, we’ll profile as many prospects as possible.

THE RESUME

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.

MOCK PROJECTIONS

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.

VIDEO BREAKDOWNS

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.

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  • Wilbert M.

    Lotulelei or Joeckel would be good picks for the Eagles. If neither is there, they should drop back a few slots and grab Eric Fisher or Milliner.

    • GGeagle

      Can you stop with the mIlner BS? Just cause you might went there to be a top 5 corner, it doesn’t mean every draft class will have one, and this class clearly doesn’t.
      All I keep hearing is this parroted line about Milner is just the next in the long line of great Alabama corners? Who the hell are these great nfl corners that Saban has produced? You draft a kid at 4 he better have a great chance at becoming all pro. How much better is Milner then the last great Alabama corner Kirkpatrik, who did NOTHING for the bengals last year.Saban doesn’t let his corners back peddle, he makes them use the crab walk technique….so you think it’s ok to draft a corner in the top 5 who hasn’t ckpeddled in 4 years? Yikes!!! The mocking of Milner has been teriibble. I can assu you he won’t go in the top 5, most likely he will come off the board between 11-15 range.

      I also think when it’s all said and done, Trufant will be the better NFL corner

      • GGeagle

        Saban has the recruiting pick of the litter every single year, yet hasn’t produced a single all pro corner…..Milner at 4? NO SHOT IN HELL THAT HAPPENS!

        • Wilbert M.

          First of all, I’ve never commented on Milliner before, so I don’t understand the “stop the BS” comment. Secondly, you must have missed the part about TRADING DOWN and picking Milliner (or Fisher).

  • theycallmerob

    S.T.U.D.

  • http://www.philthycanuck.com/ Adam

    I’d call him more of a poor mans Ngata but he’s going to be special. Call me crazy, but I’m not a fan of this pick for 2 reasons:

    1) You can find a serviceable nose tackle in free agency. I don’t think you need a stud NT, just someone who can eat a double team. Pass rushing is obviously a nice bonus, but think we can get away with a JAG guy here.

    2) Trade back in the 1st for someone looking for Smith/Milliner (I’m assuming Joeckel is off the board now), but stay in the top 10 and grab our SAM (Dion Jordan is my guy here) and collect another mid round pick where there’s a ton of depth.

    This is just my opinion.

    • CJ

      I don’t think you draft Star and waste him exclusively at NT, I wouldn’t look at it like that. If that’s their plan, you’re right. But in a 3-4 you need bigger ends, and he can fit there or play end in the 4-3 under or DT in a conventional 4-3. When you look at his versatility and power, I don’t know that calling him a poor man’s Ngata is very fair. He’s more versatile, and better pass rusher coming out of college than Ngata was. We don’t know how he’ll develop, but if you compare them both coming into the draft, if anything, Ngata was a poor man’s Lotulelei. He’s the one guy I’d take in the top 4 in this draft. I don’t think you draft an RT that high (assuming Peters is healthy), but I get why some would, though I don’t think there’s a chance Joekel falls to 4 anyway. I’ve talked about why I wouldn’t take Millner in the top 10 in another thread. Lotulelei fits every variation of scheme that’s been associated with this Eagles’ defense, he grades out as one of the best two players in the draft almost without question. If he’s there he has to be the pick, but I’m not so sure he will be. I’m unimpressed with the NTs out on the FA market, but there are enough to go around in the first few rounds.

      • GGeagle

        If you want to draft star as a NT, no thanks! Rather have a 340lb Brandon Williams with a high motor in rd 2-3…. If we are drafting star, playing him at NT, til we eventually find a nose and then slide star over to the DT/DE, well then that’s a good pick. but if you just plan on drafting him and playing NT for the next 10 years, then I wouldn’t want him at 4. I searched all the NFL NT, and most of them came from rounds 4-6

        • CJ

          It depends how they approach free agency with the other needs on D, but I wouldn’t mind if they found a way to get the other Williams (Jesse) either. If you have a front line with Star, Williams, and Cox, it doesn’t matter what front you use, that’s just plain nasty. With Ryans inside, no one’s running on this team (for once), Cox and Star can still get to the QB, and there’s still talent coming off the edge. It also allows you to use slightly undersized LBs (of which the eagles have plenty), because you don’t have to worry about them having to shed guards and tackles so much with all that girth up front. I doubt they’d invest that heavy into the front line with a top 10 pick last year and picks in two of the first 3 rounds this year, but if they did, it’d improve the whole unit, and you wouldn’t have to worry about that line for quite a while.

          • nicksaenz1

            They could also look into Sopoaga in FA, J. Williams in the secondand free up the 4th overall for another of the O-lineman assuming that Joeckel is gone.

          • brza

            I agree. Pick #4 is wasted on a NT. Plus there’s so much depth at that position this year and only so many teams who actually have a need at NT.

            I also like the idea of getting Sopoaga in FA if the price is reasonable. Then you free up that need but can still draft one of the Williams’ (Brandon, Jesse or even Sylvester) in the 3rd round if one of them fall, and I think one will. There’s just too much depth and not enough need there this year for all the NT prospects to be taken by the Eagles third round pick.

            Value at pick #4 would be Joeckel or Damontre Moore. Otherwise drop down a bit (between 8-12) if possible and draft Dion Jordan, Fisher or Milliner.

        • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

          Good Defensive Tackles are hard to come by, the Eagles haven’t had a solid Defensive Tackle since Jerome Brown, Difference Makers in the trenches are often overlooked by the casual fans of the NFL.

          If you’re playing a 3-4 there’s no doubt you had better have a menacing Defensive Tackle that requires double teams at every snap. If not, it’s to easy in the nfl to send the guards out to maul linebackers. Leaving a Center or Guard One on One with a Nose Tackle should result in sever consequences for either the ball carrier or the quarterback.

      • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

        Lotulelei isn’t the consensus best Nose Tackle in the draft, there are questions about the level of competition Lotulelei faced at Utah playing in the PAC 12. The Kid out of George Washington High School in Philly, Floyd playing at Florida is presumed to be just as good, so is the kid at Georgia, both from SEC Schools, where Cox came from. Floyd’s played every position along the defensive line on one of the top defenses in the NATION and he was a stand out Tackle on that defense. Jenkins at Georgia last year won the SEC Championship. There’s some talent at tackle in the draft this year.

    • http://twitter.com/Lez215 Dutch

      I think this is a questionable pick simply because I don’t know he’s played against the best competition in that conference for good evaluation of his skills set. The Eagles are a team with no depth and limited talent on their starting unit, they got that way by trading back picks in the draft.

      This team is in no position to trade down and never were.

  • knighn

    I also wouldn’t mind if the Eagles take a DT/NT type at number 4. If that’s the Best Player Available (BPA), take him. In this case, it wouldn’t just be about getting a NT, but rather getting a “versatile” player who can either stop the run or rush the passer, and play in the multiple fronts (3-4/4-3/4-3 hybrid) that I expect that we’ll see from the Eagles this year. This guy wouldn’t just be a big, run-stuffing NT – this guy would be a defensive play-maker. I think everyone knows we need more of those.

    EDIT: CJ’s post wasn’t there when I posted mine. Sorry if it seems like I’m plagiarizing, CJ!

  • Sensei

    No matter what position he plays on the line if a 3-4 of some sort is coming this guy should be the number one priority

  • Bob

    Great article Sheil, I like the highlights of the video you pointed out. Also, it would be great to draft star we’d have a ferocious dline

  • xlGmanlx

    Star + Cox could be very disruptive on paper on the field at the same time. You could replace jenkins with Cox.

  • http://twitter.com/Brendanekstrom Brendan ekstrom

    Ok. After the very last play I would have no problem if the eagles drafted Star. We need more violence.