First Round, 14th Pick
A heart condition has created clouds around what was otherwise a brilliant future ahead for Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. In a draft without a clear-cut No. 1 overall pick, Lotulelei presents a package of tools and proven abilities on the field that sure looks a lot like the best player in the draft upon closer inspection.
Lotulelei has the quickest get-off at the snap of any defensive tackle in the draft, and it's not close. He is almost always the first player out of his stance in the trenches, and it can result in destructive ambushes of interior offensive linemen.
Lotulelei's functional strength is overwhelming, and he is almost never pushed backwards, even by double-teams. His motor runs hot, and he plays with amazing explosiveness for a 300-plus-pound defensive tackle.
Lotulelei can single-handedly stop running plays, shedding his blocker and making the tackle on his own. He has surprising overall athleticism and can run in the open field to track down running backs at the edge. He can line up at many different spots on the defensive line and be used in many defensive schemes. When he is on, Lotulelei's game truly is "unstoppable."
Predictably, Lotulelei lacks the lateral agility to consistently seal the deal against running backs and quarterbacks who see him coming. He can be eluded, although his constant penetration changes plays.
Lotulelei lacks a variety of pass-rush moves and strategies. He can take himself out of plays by charging too strong upfield in the exact direction his blocker wants him to go.
Lotulelei tends to fade as games go on, although he plays an inordinate amount of snaps for a defensive tackle. Even though he can't be pushed back, Lotulelei can be steered by blockers when he plays too high, which is more common later in games. Sometimes Lotulelei lacks awareness and misses the play because he is too attack-minded.
Lotulelei is massive at 6'2", 311 lbs. His functional strength is overpowering. Once he gets his hands on his opponent, they put up about as much resistance as a blocking sled. He explodes out of his stance and also has enough of a vertical to obstruct passing lanes when he doesn't collapse the pocket.
Lotulelei runs about as well as a 300-plus-pounder can, and combined with his motor, this does result in hustle plays away from the point of attack. In general, Lotulelei is an imposing physical presence who will continue to be intimidating at the next level.
A heart ailment that was discovered at the scouting combine could limit, or even end, Lotulelei's career—more information is needed before judging this. He quit football for a year at the junior college level, but there are few questions about his character on and off of the field. Lotulelei is married with two children, so he might be more grounded than a typical prospect.
Lotulelei generally lined up at zero-tech nose tackle over the center when Utah would line up in a three-man front and anywhere from one- to three-tech defensive tackle over a guard when they were in a four-man front. Lotulelei was able to tie up double-teams and penetrate when one-on-one with a guard or center.
Lotulelei fires off of the snap and usually pushes his blocker into the backfield, if not completely shedding him. He instantly affects pocket integrity and often flushes the quarterback from the pocket. When Lotulelei does have the quarterback in his sights, just about any move can elude him as long as it is timed correctly, although Lotulelei is surprisingly quick and can still notch sacks with the element of surprise.
He gets his big paws up to deflect passes when he's aware of the quarterback setting up to throw, and he can run to the edge to affect a scrambling quarterback's options. Lotulelei flashes enough agility to even be used on stunts and twists.
Against the Run
Forget about getting any push against Lotulelei on running plays. The very best an offensive lineman (even a double-team) can hope to do is stalemate Lotulelei or steer him away from or past the play when his natural momentum is taking him in that direction.
Lotulelei is strong enough to shed or even pancake blockers and blow up running plays in the backfield. His arms and hands are strong enough to make arm tackles on running backs passing by when he is engaged, and when he isn't engaged, Lotulelei is a brick wall in the hole. He doesn't waste steps closing on the ball-carrier and makes them look tiny and weak when he does get them in his grasp.
Lotulelei is actually good about wrapping up, and as pointed out above, he can make tackles with one arm when he is being blocked. His motor, athleticism and pursuit speed allow him to make tackles outside of the hashmarks. He'll even drift into space and tackle a highly talented wide receiver like Marqise Lee when the play goes away from him.
Use of Hands
Lotulelei doesn't employ advanced technique to chop away a blocker's hands or assist him in rushing the passer, but his brute strength and combativeness still work in this area.
Lotulelei's punch lands with a jolt that gets his opponent off balance, usually ending the other player's chances of keeping him out of the backfield. Lotulelei is active with his hands and can simply overpower offensive linemen who try to hold him.
Scheme Versatility/Future Role
Lotulelei is a defensive coordinator's dream. He can play in every front and conceivably line up anywhere from zero-tech nose tackle to five-tech defensive end in a 3-4. He can line up shaded off of the center as a nose tackle or three-tech penetrating undertackle in a 4-3.
Lotulelei's lack of great awareness might limit him as a two-gap defensive tackle, but he can definitely hold the point against double-teams.
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