The Oakland Raiders are trying to put together a winning team for the first time in over a decade. The Raiders have mortgaged future years for long enough as they patched holes in the trenches and added speedsters outside.
General manager Reggie McKenzie is trying to build something more stable and to do that he needs a good foundation. The offensive and defensive lines are that foundation. McKenzie had six draft picks in 2011 and spent three of them on the lines.
Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is a player McKenzie should have on his short list of players to draft No. 3 overall. If McKenzie is unable to trade down, he needs to take the best player available. With a plethora of needs, McKenzie has the luxury of sticking to his board and Lotulelei should be near the top.
The Raiders also have a lot of free agents on the defensive line in 2013 and they will need a defensive tackle. Lotulelei also might be the best player available in the entire draft and there is no guarantee he even falls to the Raiders.
Richard Seymour, Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy will all be able to test the open market as free agents. The Raiders will likely try to bring back Bryant, but Seymour is likely gone. Shaughnessy could be brought back if the price is right, but he’s probably not a priority unless the Raiders consider a switch to the 3-4.
According to spotrac.com, Tommy Kelly has a $9.4 million cap number in 2013. The Raiders would save at least Kelly’s base salary of $6.5 million if they were to release him. The Raiders might be looking for a little cap flexibility and they can get it by releasing Kelly. With that money the Raiders might be able to sign two free agents elsewhere.
Looks the Part
The only player that’s a lock to be a starter on Oakland’s defensive line in 2013 is Lamarr Houston. The only thing scarier than such a paltry defensive line is probably lining up opposite of Lotulelei. It’s hard not to be scared of a 6’4” and 320-pound man. Typically speaking, a player of Lotulelei’s size is going to have a big gut, but he’s well-proportioned for a man his size.
Lotulelei isn’t going to fool anyone as a speed guy, but he’s a good enough athlete to chase quarterbacks out of bounds when they break contain. It’s pretty impressive for a man of his size to be able to chase all the way to the sideline.
It’s hard to justify taking a defensive tackle early in the draft because of their relatively low impact on the game compared to other positions. Lotulelei is an exception because he’s so disruptive in all phases of the game.
When you watch Lotulelei his power jumps off the screen. He is always moving forward and collapsing the pocket even when he’s double teamed. He gets low and drives blockers back while hitting them with his powerful arms. Lotulelei is so powerful he’s been able to knock blockers off balance with a simple swipe.
Lotulelei’s hand placement is also excellent which makes every powerful punch inflict maximum damage. His violent punch and long arms allow him to keep blockers from engaging. You can only hope to contain Lotulelei to try to keep him from impacting the game, but he’s not just a powerful gap clogger.
Players as big as Lotulelei aren’t supposed to be so disruptive in the passing game—yet he is. He likes to use the arm-over technique also known as a swim move. This technique enables Lotulelei to get pressure on the quarterback several times a game.
It’s probably such an effective move for him because of his raw power and great quickness and agility for his size. Since opponents have a hard to engaging Lotulelei, he can knock their hands down while moving forward.
Edge pressure is great, but good quarterbacks will roll away from it and step up in the pocket to escape. Interior pass-rushers are actually pretty unique. Lotulelei is scheme diverse and can play all of the defensive line positions except the 4-3 defensive ends spots, but he’s so quick that stunts with him going to the outside would still be effective.
If Lotulelei can’t use his swim move he routinely walks the blocker back into the pocket which is also disruptive to the quarterback. He demonstrated a good awareness in 2012 finding the ball and knocking passes down.
Shed and Tackle
There’s more to being a good run defender than just eating up space. Beating the double team, shedding blocks and making the tackle is all part of the package with Lotulelei.
Since he is able to keep blockers away from his body with his long, powerful arms, he’s able to fight through blocks to make his way to the ball-carrier. It’s not uncommon for running backs to have to change direction in the backfield because Lotulelei is in the running lane which creates opportunities for his teammates.
Lotulelei gets such good penetration that he blocked what would have been a game-tying field goal against BYU. The Raiders need a guy like Richard Seymour who has the power and quickness to block kicks up the middle.
At one point, Lotulelei quit football because he didn’t get offers from any big colleges, but he picked it back up. Some will question his desire, but if anything this proves that he loves the game. He couldn’t quit even though he was disappointed.
Lotulelei doesn’t have any off-field concerns to worry about and he’s a well-spoken guy who returned to Utah to refine his game. The Raiders would be wise to pick up Lotulelei and make him the centerpiece of their defense.