Star Lotulelei | Defensive tackle | Utah | 6'4, 320 pounds
It's easy to forget about Star Lotulelei. Utah struggled through a 5-7 season and missed a bowl game. Lotulelei turned down a Senior Bowl invite as well. Ostensibly, he hasn't been seen or heard from since Utah beat Colorado on Nov. 23.
Don't forget that Lotulelei was named a first-team All-American this season by the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation.
Much of Lotulelei's value comes in his versatility. He's a staunch run defender and built for taking up two gaps as a 3-4 nose tackle. In a 4-3 system, he can stick as a one-technique tackle. Lotulelei isn't just a stationary run stuffer. His first step is impressive for a 320-pound athlete. Because of his get off, some teams will use Lotulelei as a three-technique, gap-shooting tackle.
In the run game, Lotulelei's game is based around his first step. Not only is it quick, but he does a good job of anticipating the snap count. When he can get off the line of scrimmage fast, it allows him to get leverage on offensive linemen and move them around. Lotulelei is powerful throughout his frame, so he can use his upper body to move linemen around and his legs to drive them backward. He has quick hands to shed blockers and move toward the ball.
As a pass rusher, Lotulelei is almost exclusively a bull rusher. Has the power to push linemen back and disrupt the pocket. As a senior, teams often used two blockers on Lotuelei, particularly on passing situations. This opened lanes up for other Utah defenders to rush the passer. While he's no J.J. Watt, he does a nice job of getting his hands up to distract passing windows.
Seems to run hot and cold at times – both from game to game and play to play. While Lotulelei isn't a lazy player, he can be neutralized somewhat by linemen that get leverage when he comes out of his stance too high. Teams often ran the ball away from Lotulelei and he didn't always work to chase after the ball. Whether that's because he was asked to stay at home for backside contain is unknown.
Getting into an NFL training regimen should help Lotulelei's stamina. He wore down at the end of some games.
Other than a bull rush, Lotulelei doesn't offer a lot as a pass rusher. He needs to add counter moves to his game to be more effective against power blockers. Needs to come out lower more frequently. He can give up position he gets off the snap too high. Not used much in zone blitzes, though that shouldn't necessarily be used against Lotulelei.
Conclusion: There is not a lot of spectacular plays on Lotulelei's highlight reel. He's a steady force in the middle. In a draft that has uncertainty, Lotulelei should be viewed as a good player and a safe pick. He has a skill set to immediately help some team's run defense and the quickness to get better as a pass rusher.
Pro comparison: Darnell Dockett, Arizona Cardinals
Dissenters will knock this opinion because Dockett has had decent sack numbers as a pro while Lotulelei had just seven sacks in three seasons at Utah. But from a style and skill set stand point, the two are quite similar. Both of their games are based on quickness, but they have the power to hold up versus the run. Lotulelei is probably a little more naturally strong, but he can be used in the same way Dockett has been.