Former Utah DT Star Lotulelei was set to showcase his skills at the NFL Scouting Combine Monday, February 25—but that was before an echocardiogram showed the NFL prospect had a heart irregularity.
ESPN's Chris Mortenson reported on February 25, "Lotulelei was discovered to have an abnormally low Ejection Fraction, detecting that the left ventricle of his heart was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, sources said. The normal range is between 55-70 percent efficiency."
At 6'2'', and 311 pounds, Lotulelei is a highly-regarded prospect, rated No. 1 at his position and No. 7 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by cbssports.com. Set to soon undergo further testing in Salt Lake City, the defensive tackle still plans to interview with teams at the combine before taking part in Utah's pro day on March 20.
The hope for the young man is that his follow-up visit rules out anything serious to his playing career and, more importantly, his life in general. That's what he and his family, as well as fans familiar with the story, are hoping to soon hear.
However, in the event it turns out to in fact be a relevant health issue, Lotulelei's draft status and potential contract could take a big hit. Yahoo! Sports' Brian McIntyre talked about the financial impacts a serious health concern can have on a player's final draft stock:
"A poor medical report can drop a player out of the top of the draft as NFL teams will be wary of guaranteeing more than $10 million to a player with a red flag for a medical issue. In the 2011 NFL draft, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was projected to be among the first five selections, but concerns over his surgically repaired knee knocked him out of the first round entirely, landing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the middle of the second round. Instead of signing a four-year, fully guaranteed worth between $18.4 million to $22.025 million, Bowers signed a contract worth a total of $3.855 million with $2.229 million in guarantees."
Many draft projections, such as that of cbssports.com, have DT Sharrif Floyd of Florida being taken ahead of Lotulelei in Round 1. As of February 25, cbssports.com' Rob Rang has the Utah talent going to Tennessee at No. 10, while Dane Brugler predicts he will be picked by Carolina at No. 14.
Beyond Floyd and Lotulelei, there are only a handful of other prospective first-round defensive tackles on the draft block: Kawann Short (Purdue), Sheldon Richardson (Missouri), John Jenkins (Georgia), Johnathan Hankins (Ohio State) and Jesse Williams (Alabama). Depending on the outcome of additional testing, any one of these defensive tackles could rise above Lotulelei in the draft.
The best hope for Lotulelei is that his second visit reveals nothing major and he is drafted within the first ten picks. The worst possible scenario, if there turns out to be legitimate health concerns (assuming he is cleared to play), would be his draft stock dropping to the point where he isn't even selected in the first round—a scenario that could cost the young talent millions of dollars.
On the heels of recent NFL suicides thought to be tied to head injuries, the NFL should be applauded for its focus on physical exams at the combine. Outside of avoiding potential legal issues down the road, performing rigorous exams prior to the draft each year can ultimately help save a prospect's life. Without such tests, numerous players could potentially and unknowingly risk their lives in the NFL.
Let's not forget these kids, fresh out of college, are more than anything sons, husbands, fathers, etc. to a number of folks—people that will depend on them in life, whether they make plays on the field or not.
Here's to hoping for the very best for Star Lotulelei in his team interviews at the combine, follow-up visits with cardiologists and life in general beyond the 2013 NFL Draft.