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Lotulelei might be the victim of not playing the right positions for the Raiders.
It’s hard to watch Star Lotulelei’s game tape and not come away impressed. If production is important to you, Lotulelei had two more sacks in 12 games than Floyd had in 13 games last season. Lotulelei, though, isn’t a 3-technique defensive tackle and that makes his performance even more impressive.
Lotulelei can play nose tackle or the defensive end spot in a 3-4 defense or the 1-technique defensive tackle spot in the 4-3 defense. Since the Raiders would probably like to use more varied fronts, it’s never a bad idea to have an explosive interior player who can play multiple spots.
Lotulelei is not the consensus top defensive tackle, but that’s a bit deceiving. Lotulelei is easily the consensus top 5-technique defensive end and 1-technique defensive tackle because Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are considered 3-technique players.
Lotulelei has an explosive first step and puts it to good use with good snap anticipation. Lotulelei is amazingly strong (38 bench reps), has heavy hands and can disrupt the pocket with his bull rush. Lotulelei can just as easily stack and shed to get into the backfield to drop running backs. For a man his size, Lotulelei plays with an impressive and relentless motor.
It seems likely that Lotulelei will become the unsung hero of a very good defense. Some people have compared Lotulelei with another Salt Lake City product named Haloti Ngata. Lotulelei produced 10 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks in his final year of college to Ngata’s 9.0 tackles for a loss and 3.0 sacks.
The Raiders invested less money in Pat Sims than Vance Walker, but they still have last year’s sixth-round draft pick Christo Bilukidi on the roster. The Raiders certainly could use an impact player to anchor the heart of their defense in the future.
When it comes to position value, a 1-technique defensive tackle isn’t usually high on the list. If the Raiders are bent on staying in the 4-3 alignment, Lotulelei’s impact and value could be minimized. It’s reasonable to think that another player fits better if the Raiders are opposed to using more three-man fronts.
Lotulelei also had to skip the combine workouts because of a heart condition that has since been cleared, but the Raiders will have to do their due diligence. Lotulelei might be a good player, but the Raiders are in position to do more with their first-round pick.