The NFL Draft features an exciting group of defensive tackles, with Sharrif Floyd and Star Lotulelei leading the pack. Both have made big names for themselves, but the question still remains: Which one is the better prospect?
Before the NFL combine workouts, a lot of people had Lotulelei as a top-five pick and the top DT in this class. However, a strange heart condition had him sit out the combine, forcing his draft stock to take a hit. People were unsure of how major a condition it was, and if it would make an impact on his ability to play in the league.
Luckily, the health reports have been positive ever since. According to USA Today, a heart specialist said that his heart is fine and that the abnormal test could have been due to a viral infection. His draft stock has begun to rise once again, but teams still remain hesitant with him. Bleacher Report's own Dave Siebert explained that the condition likely won’t impact his career, saying:
The overwhelming likelihood is that Lotulelei's heart will never again prove an issue. Nevertheless, without determining the precise cause of his temporarily decreased EF, complete certainty will continue to evade teams heading up to April's NFL draft.
What is certain, however, is the fact that the frightening possibility of an incurable, irreversible disease is off the table.
With the issue involving Lotulelei cleared and out of the way, the two players can be accurately compared. Let’s take a look at how these two players match up against each other.
Stopping the Run
Both players do a great job getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc. They both did a great job in 2012 reading run plays and stopping runners in the backfield.
Floyd might not be the biggest defensive linemen, but he was able to do a great job shedding linemen and getting into the backfield to wrap up the running back. He does an excellent job using his hands to quickly disengage. The problem with Floyd is that he isn’t able to make as big of an initial push as some scouts would like to see.
On the other hand, Lotulelei can do just that. He does an incredible job getting off the snap quickly, as seen here against USC.
That quick reaction time is a major asset in football. He is able to get in great positioning before the offensive lineman is ready, and can get by him much more quickly. Along with that, he can bull-rush thanks to his big size and strong arms. He finds ways to get in the backfield, and disrupted more than a few plays in 2012.
While neither prospect is going to become a top pass-rusher for their team, both possess skills to get to the quarterback.
The athleticism of Floyd helps him get to the passer. He is able to split double teams frequently, specifically in pass protection. He is much quicker than most defensive tackles, and is able to move around much faster in the backfield because of it. While he only registered three sacks in 2012, his pass-rushing ability is still impressive.
For Lotulelei, he doesn’t possess the same kind of quickness as Floyd. He is sometimes able to push linemen back and get to the quarterback that way, but he usually isn’t fast enough to catch up with the quarterback, especially if he’s mobile. Star will pressure passers in the NFL, he just won’t register many sacks.
The two play the same position, but they are quite different physical specimens.
Floyd makes up for his smaller size by being more athletic. He’s only listed at 6’3’’ and 297 pounds, so being a pure bull-rusher isn’t exactly his style of play. He makes up for his disadvantage in strength by being agile and having quick feet. He was able to run 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash, as well as 4.75 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle drill.
Although Lotulelei isn’t as fast as Floyd, he certainly is stronger. Listed at 6’2’’ and 311 pounds, he is an ideal size for playing in the middle of the defense, and it clearly shows on film. He is clearly able to push linemen back on a consistent basis and ruining blocking schemes for the offense. His strength was showcased even more at his Pro Day, where he killed the bench press with 38 reps.
The athleticism for Floyd is impressive, but Lotulelei’s strength makes him a more appealing prospect at the defensive tackle position.
In a league where defenses play multiple packages, versatility is an important trait.
Floyd was able to play all over the line in 2012. He was a defensive end in 2011, so the switch to defensive tackle opened up the whole line for him. He played inside guards, but was also able to play outside of offensive tackles. What was more important was that he excelled when moving along the line.
Even though Lotulelei didn’t play as an end, he was still able to be versatile on the inside of the line. At Utah, he was able to move around the defensive line without much trouble.
The bottom line is that both players are versatile enough to play either in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense in the NFL. However, the experience as a defensive end makes Floyd more versatile.
Both of these prospects will have very bright futures in the NFL. They both have the talent to be top 10 picks in this year’s draft, but Lotulelei is the better prospect overall, if only by a very small margin. His strength and incredible reaction off of the snap gives him a bigger upside over Floyd.
Teams may not feel this way because of his heart condition, which means that Floyd may very well be drafted first. Oakland is a team that is looking for a defensive tackle, and they likely will be taking Floyd with the third overall pick.
At the end of the day, both guys are exceptional players. Both will find homes in the NFL, and will likely be playing at a high level for the next five or more years.