The Panthers added beef on their defensive line Thursday night in the first round of the NFL Draft, as the team picked 23-year-old DT Star Loutlelei from Utah.
The DT has had medical issues in the past, but the Cats were willing to take a shot on him, hoping he could step in from day one and be a huge starter for a team that needs help on the defensive side of the ball.
Height Weight Arm length Hands
6-foot-2 311 lbs. 33 5/8 in. 9 ¾ in.
Loutlelei did not participate at the combine.
Lotulelei is appealing based on his size, production, and versatility. In a 3-4 defense, he can play any spot on the line, and he can play both interior spots in the 4-3. One of the big issues with Lotulelei was a heart condition detected before he was set to participate at February’s scouting combine. But Lotulelei has been medically cleared. His size, strength, and quickness would be an asset to a defensive front, and he was a top performer in the Pac-12 during the last two seasons. In 2012, he recorded 11 tackles for a loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles. The 23-year-old was born in Tonga, grew up in Utah and is married with two daughters.
Summary: Lotulelei spent the past two seasons as perhaps the best defensive player in the Pac-12. He was a wrecking ball at the point of attack. Lotulelei is explosive off the snap and constantly disrupts plays behind the line of scrimmage. The only way offenses were able to keep him in check was via double teams. Even with two blockers, Lotulelei would hold his ground and generate draws. He also beat double teams semi-frequently.
Lotulelei broke into the starting lineup as a junior and was a First-Team All-Pac-12 pick in 2011. He aalso won the Morris Trophy as the conference’s top defensive lineman as voted on by the starting offensive linemen. Lotulelei recorded 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
The senior totaled 42 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes broken up this year. Lotulelei started the game against USC on fire with plays all over the field, including a vicious tackle for a loss and a forced fumble that he recovered after blowing up center Khaled Holmes. Lotulelei was held to consistent draws after the Trojans started double-teaming him. He caused a fumble against USC, but was not officially credited for it.
Lotulelei was dominant against California, BYU and Utah State. In his final collegiate contest, against Colorado, Lotulelei had six tackles, a sack and a pass batted. His stat lines weren’t huge in the latter half of the season, but he was still a disruptive force. The Utes finished 5-7, so they didn’t play in a bowl game.
WalterFootball.com first reported that Lotulelei wouldn’t play in the Senior Bowl. The consensus opinion around the league had him as a top-10 pick, so he had little to gain from playing in Mobile while taking the risk of a serious injury.
Lotulelei was held out of the Combine workouts because of a potential heart condition. After speaking with sources, they expect that the further tests will clear Lotulelei medically and there won’t be a cardiac issue for him. The same incident happened last year with a false positive for Oklahoma defensive end Frank Alexander.
It was unfortunate for Lotulelei to be held out of the Combine. His strength, speed, athleticism and explosiveness would have probably made him a Combine standout and, possibly, the first pick.
For the NFL, Lotulelei looks like a complete package. He has amazing strength to grab offensive linemen and toss them aside. Lotulelei is extremely fast to chase down ball-carriers. He makes more plays than the stats illustrate with the constant disruption he provides off the snap. His explosive first step lets him fire by offensive linemen to get penetration into the backfield. Lotulelei also plays with a mean streak. He bullies linemen and hits with authority.
Lotulelei’s speed and strength makes him a pass-rushing threat. He can beat linemen with power or speed rushes. Lotulelei has a tremendous bull rush. His sacks numbers could easily increase in the NFL. His pressure and disruption should allow him to generate sacks for his teammates as well.
Lotulelei is excellent in the ground game, too. He is impossible to move at the line of scrimmage and stuff his gap. Lotulelei is very adept at shedding his blockers to get in on tackles. He regularly fired into the backfield to blow up runs. It would be shocking if Lotulelei is not an asset in run defense.
The athletic Lotulelei can do just about anything at the next level. In a 4-3, he could play nose tackle or be a three-technique. For a 3-4 defense, Lotulelei could play defensive end or nose tackle. Given his versatility, it is difficult to say which position would be his best because he could excel at all of them.