Star Lotulelei's Rookie Predictions with Carolina Panthers

Tim KeeneyContributor IApril 26, 2013

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 13:  Defensive tackle Star Lotulelei #92 of the Utah Utes battles offensive lineman Torian White #77 of the UCLA Bruins as he rushes quarterback Brett Hundley #17 at the Rose Bowl on October 13, 2012 in Pasadena, California. UCLA won 21-14.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Star Lotulelei inexplicably dropped to No. 14 in the 2013 NFL draft, but the first 13 teams' loss was the Carolina Panthers' gain. 

Short of every team trading its first-round pick to the Panthers in exchange for a can of refried beans, Thursday night really couldn't have gone any better for new GM David Gettleman.

Coming into the draft, defensive tackle was arguably Carolina's biggest need, and Lotulelei was, according to most, the best available—if not the best overall prospect—at the position. You could have asked Panthers fans what the best-case scenario was for the first round, and they probably would have answered in a sarcastic, this-will-never-happen voice: Lotulelei drops to the Panthers.

Welp, Merry Christmas. 


Who is Star Lotulelei?

The massive defensive tackle spent three years at Utah, where he piled up 107 tackles, 21.5 for a loss and 7.0 sacks. He was a first-team All-American in 2012 and two-time first-team all-Pac-12 player. 

At 6'2", 311 pounds, he's an interior defender who will instantly command center-guard double teams, thus making it a hassle for teams to run up the middle. 

While his ability to stuff the run is undoubtedly his best attribute, however, his versatility is what pushed him to No. 1 on several draft boards for a while. He can move all across the line, can match up against different linemen in different gaps and has the athleticism to make plays on the outside or rush the passer, although he's not nearly as effective in that aspect of the game. 

"But, Tim, you amazing person, you," you're probably saying to your screen right now, "why would someone so intimidating and versatile drop so far?"

Great question, reader.

During the combine back in February, it was revealed that Lotulelei had a potentially serious problem with his heart

Despite being cleared and having "no restrictions," though, it's apparent several teams weren't willing to take the risk with the big man. 


How Does He Fit?

Hey, Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson, you're welcome.

Carolina's two defensive ends were already a problem for most defenses, combining for 23.5 sacks in 2012. With Lotulelei in the middle soaking up blocks like a big, naturally-gifted sponge, Hardy and Johnson will see a lot fewer double-teams. 

That's scary. 

Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, who racked up 164 tackles last year, should also be able to fly to the ball—especially on runs up the gut—more freely.


Rookie Year Predictions

Lotulelei serves as an addition who won't light up the individual stat sheet, but will help improve the numbers of those around him while elevating the team's defensive statistics overall.

This guy is going to be, ahem, a super...good player (I bet you thought I was going to say that other word).

2013 Predictions: 16 games played, 35 total tackles, 4.0 sacks, 3 fumbles forced