What Are the Experts Saying About Star Lotulelei's Heart Condition?

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystFebruary 25, 2013

What Are the Experts Saying About Star Lotulelei's Heart Condition?

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    It may not be the flashiest event at the NFL Scouting Combine, but it can be the most important.

    As college football's best and brightest get put through the paces in Indianapolis, they also receive a full medical examination from NFL doctors.

    This year's exams brought with them a shocking revelation.

    Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, who was widely considered a potential top-five selection in April's draft, was forced to withdraw from drills at the combine after doctors diagnosed him with a heart condition.

    What was the condition, and what effect could it have on Lotulelei's draft stock?

    Read on and find out!

The Diagnosis

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    According to Chris Mortensen of ESPN, Lotulelei was diagnosed with an abnormally low Ejection Fraction.

    Lotulelei's left ventricle, at the time of the test, was pumping at only 44 percent efficiency, wherein the normal value lies in the 55-70 percent range.

    Essentially, when Lotulelei's heart beat during the test, only 44 percent of the blood in his left ventricle was being pumped out.

    According to The Cleveland Clinic, an Ejection Fraction of less than 40 percent can indicate heart failure, but it's important to note that no such diagnosis has been made in Lotulelei's case.

    Lotulelei will now head back to Salt Lake City for further testing to confirm the diagnosis and ascertain its cause.

The Doctor Is in

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    If you're interested in more information on Lotulelei's diagnosis, you need look no further than right here at Bleacher Report.

    Dave Siebert, who is about to graduate from medical school himself, did a fantastic write-up on Lotulelei's condition.

    It's very interesting reading, and Siebert reports that right now it's just too soon to tell whether Lotulelei's abnormal test in Indianapolis is just a slight hiccup in his NFL career or could spell its demise altogether.

    Make no mistake, though—some of the causes of decreased heart function could threaten his playing career altogether. That said, others will not drop his draft stock in the slightest.

    Nevertheless, since many reversible causes of cardiomyopathy take quite some time to resolve, and since some are chronic, progressive conditions, nothing is a given. His situation should be more clear by April's NFL draft.

Mike Garafalo, USA Today

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    According to a report by Mike Garafalo of USA Today, the hope is that Lotulelei's heart condition is nothing more serious than a side effect of his preparations for the combine.

    Sources informed Garafalo that Lotulelei has been told that he may continue working out on his own, although it may be those workouts that raised this red flag to begin with.

    A person informed of the conversations between doctors and the potential top-five draft pick said it's hoped that it's not a heart condition but rather dehydration, too much sodium in his diet or rapid weight loss in a short timeframe that prompted tests to reveal his heart wasn't pumping at full capacity. Lotulelei dropped almost 10 pounds in three days recently, in part because of the hectic schedule of traveling to the combine and the long days in Indianapolis.

    This is all conjecture of course, but a simple case of deydration would certainly be good news for Lotulelei.

Is Star's Stock Already Falling?

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    It's still awfully early to be making conclusions about how this news could affect Lotulelei's draft stock, especially since all the facts aren't in yet.

    However, Lotulelei's health scare has already caused a tumble of sorts on one draft board.

    Scouts Inc., who recently had Lotulelei as their top overall player at any position in this year's draft class according to Pro Football Talk, has now dropped him to third.

    Sure, that's not exactly a free fall, but it's a small indicator of the uncertainty that now surrounds Lotulelei.

    The best case for the big man is a quick second opinion and clean bill of health. Each day that passes will only cause the cloud of doubt to grow larger.

    Even that isn't going to stop potential NFL suitors from wanting to perform tests of their own, and some teams may have already pulled Lotulelei from their draft boards altogether.

What Does It All Mean?

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    The $64 question, of course, is where does this leave Lotulelei when April's draft rolls around?

    That's a loaded question, and one that frankly can't be answered with any sort of certainty given the information currently at our disposal.

    The most important thing, of course, is Lotulelei's health.

    As has been tragically shown by the cases of players such as Gaines Adams, it's not unheard of for a young man seemingly in top physical shape to die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

    The comparison wasn't lost on Ralph Mancini of NFL Draft Bible.

    Terrible news re: Star Lotulelei. His heart condition will bring 1 name 2 mind: Gaines Adams. We're not talking abt bones & ligaments here.

    — Ralph Mancini (@ReverendRalph) February 25, 2013

    For now, let's take an optimistic view and assume that Lotulelei's career isn't in jeopardy and that his condition is either temporary or manageable.

    It's still hard to imagine a scenario in which this doesn't adversely affect his draft stock.

    It may not be fair, but as I said before, there may well already be teams pulling Lotulelei off their draft boards. More will all but certainly follow suit if this turns out to be anything more than dehydration.

    Odds are, as things stand right now, Lotulelei's chances of being a top five (or even top 10) pick in April's draft are all but gone.

    In a draft this deep on the defensive line most teams just aren't going to be willing to take that risk.

    Now it's more a matter of waiting to see the results of further testing, because until those results are in we won't know just how far Lotulelei is going to fall.

    Who knows? The player we're talking about now as a medical red flag may be the same guy we mention three years from now as a huge steal after he dropped into some team's lap.

    For Lotulelei's sake I hope so.