+Strong as an ox
+Great against the run
+Tough as nails
+Solid athlete on film
-Blind penetrator at times
-Below average stamina (heart?)
-Not much long speed
I’m going to start off by saying one thing: I am not a doctor. Nor do I pretend to be one. I tend to have an ego about many of my opinions, but, when it comes to Star Lotulelei, I can’t offer an opinion regarding the health of his heart. I know nothing. The only thing I will say is that he doesn’t have much stamina (on the field for about 65% of snaps), which could be a result of his heart problems. However, I don’t feel comfortable praising or criticizing a team for drafting Lotulelei, because the team doctor probably knows much more than me about the long term effects of his heart problems. All I know is that he is an excellent football player.
Lotulelei has average measurables. He has solid height at 6’3, solid bulk at 311lbs, and below average speed with a 5.41 40 yard dash, according to NFLDraftScout.com. He doesn’t look fast on film, but he definitely looks faster than that time suggests. He has solid arm length at 33 5/8 inches, and great strength with 38 bench reps at 225lbs at the Utah pro day, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
Lotulelei has average stats. Keep in mind, Lotulelei has low stamina, which hurts his stats. Although that does affect his overall value, what’s more important than quantity of plays is quality of play. Even if Lotulelei is only on the field 2 of every 3 plays, he makes a tremendous impact on those plays. But back to the stats: 42 tackles, 10 TFL’s, and 5 sacks in 12 games in 2012, and 44 tackles, 9 TFL’s, 1.5 sacks in 2011.
Lotulelei is very good against the run. If I had one quibble, it’s that at times, he appears to be a blind penetrator, my term for a guy who gets into the backfield at all costs but may have no idea where the ball is once he gets there. This is to be expected from a guy like Lotulelei, because he penetrates with leverage. I’ve always liked guys who can penetrate with good hand usage, because you can penetrate with your head up and you can see the play as it is happening in front of you while you are shedding the block (Kawann Short). It gives you better awareness of the play. There are times in which you’ll see Lotulelei get into the backfield only to find out that the ball has already crossed the line of scrimmage. It’s not unexpected, because, if you rely on leverage to penetrate, you have to get as low as possible and your head will normally be angled toward the ground, so you might not see what’s happening in front of you. Other than that, he’s perfect against the run. First off, I see him as a nose tackle at the NFL level because of his low stamina and incredible strength. Most teams only use their nose tackles on first and second down because guys that big don’t have the stamina to be on the field all the time (except Johnathan Hankins), plus they don’t really offer much against the pass anyway. That’s going to be Lotulelei’s role in the NFL. His strength is outstanding, he never misses tackles, he controls his gap with ease, he does a really good job of using leverage to penetrate, his flexibility is just ideal, he’s very tough, and he uses excellent fundamentals. However, his range is average, as is his quickness, and he could add a rip move to his arsenal. Still, as good against the run as you could expect.
Lotulelei is solid against the pass. First off, he’s so strong that he is about as good at using a simple bull rush to create penetration as a pass rusher as any nose tackle I’ve ever seen, and he can beat the double team. He also flashes some nice hand usage that I wish I would see a little bit more often from him against the run. The problem? When he gets into the pocket, he’s usually slower than the quarterback he’s chasing. A lot slower. Alas, he’s good for QB hits, but not many sacks, since his lack of straight line athleticism makes it tough for him to get tackles. Still, any pressure he creates is valuable, even if it doesn’t lead to a sack, because it can lead to quarterbacks getting rid of the ball before they want to. Still, I don’t think he’s going to rush the quarterback much in the NFL, since he doesn’t have the stamina to play on all downs, and, given that he offers more against the run than he does the pass, NFL teams won’t keep him on passing downs to often. But, if the opposing team passes one first or second down, Lotulelei isn’t totally worthless, and that’s not something you can always say about your nose tackle (Casey Hampton).
In the end, I love Lotulelei as a player. If it weren’t for medical issues, Jarvis Jones and Lotulelei would be my number 1 and number 2 prospects, respectively, but I must knock both of them down due to those concerns. Great players if healthy.
NFL Comparison: Sione Pouha. A dominant, run stopping nose tackle that isn’t terrible against the pass and lacks stamina
Grade: 97 (worthy of a top 10 pick)
Projection: 96 (will be an early to mid 1st round pick)