Like the offensive line, the big uglies up front on the defensive side of the ball tend to get overlooked a little bit come Draft Day. That is, of course, unless you can rush the passer.
But Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei may be a little different from the rest of the pack. The Utes standout player may have the drive and skills to do exactly what his name dictates: become a star in the NFL.
Let's breakdown the game of this Pac-12 mammoth.
Name: Star Lotulelei
Position: Defensive End/Tackle
Draft Projection: Top 10
NFL Comparison: Haloti Ngata
- Exceptionally athletic for his 320-lb. frame
- Very versatile; can play in almost any scheme a coach could come up with
- Excellent burst off the football
- Strong is an understatement; great drive from both lower and upper body
- Explosive in short bursts with dancer's feet
- Power/speed combination is very rare; makes him a highly valuable commodity
- Doesn't have the best conditioning yet
- Has been caught taking plays off, leading to questions about his motor
Against the Run
- Definition of a space-eater; routinely handled double and triple teams at Utah
- No trouble shedding 1-on-1 blocks
- Has the ability to chase backs down from behind
- Rarely gets turned or sealed by opposing offensive linemen
- Eyes are always in the backfield
- Will continually drive blockers into the backfield, throwing off the play
- Blend of size and speed makes him very difficult to keep in check
- Makes the players around him better
- Disciplined in his assignments
- Does not use his hands well at the point of attack
- Doesn't make as many plays as one would expect of him (10 tackles for a loss last year)
- Good bull-rush; knows how to push the pocket
- Leverage is excellent at the point of attack
- Quickness of the ball makes him hard to handle in one-on-one situations
- Has the ability and capabilities to develop into a great pass rusher with coaching
- Not a natural pass rusher
- Doesn't have much of a rushing repertoire to fall back on
- Rarely uses his hands
In three complete seasons at Utah, Lotulelei has become quite the player for the Utes. He's started 38 games for the team over those three seasons and accumulated 107 tackles and 22.5 sacks in the same time frame.
With he eyes of scouts on him, Lotulelei proved that he's gong to be a player at the next level. In his senior campaign, Lotulelei tallied up 42 tackles and a career high five sacks. More impressively, he forced three fumbles and recovered another four.
But, maybe the most significant thing you need to know about Lotulelei is that he played at such a high level with next to not talent surrounding him. The Utes finished the season an unimpressive 5-7. According to B/R's own Draft guru Matt Miller, Utah only has two other defensive players listed on his big board and inside the top 300. Those two players would be defensive end Joe Kruger (111th overall) and cornerback Ryan Lacy (287th overall).
Lotulelei was the focus of every opposing offense coming to face the Utes for the last two seasons and he handled his business with character. The two-time All American was a monster in the middle of what was a sub-par defense.
When you watch Lotulelei play, you have to think immediately of Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. Ngata's insane blend of size and speed make him one of the most feared and exciting defenders in the National Football League. The 6'4", 340 lb now-Super Bowl contender anchors a defense that has historically been one of the best in the business. Ngata may have a little more size than Lotulelei, but the two Pacific Islanders possess a similar skill-set, a tough one to find.
Lotulelei will most likely be selected within the top 10 picks of April's upcoming draft. Scouts and front office-types will fall in love with the unique blend of size and speed. If, for some unknown reason, Lotulelei falls or the Steelers can move up, he could be a big addition for a defense that hasn't played well up front.
Although the team has selected two defensive ends in the first round in the past few drafts, both Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward haven't exactly panned out and Brett Keisel seems to be in the twilight of his career.
The Steelers have more glaring needs at linebacker, safety and wide receiver, but a player like Lotulelei only comes around once every so often and Pittsburgh would be wise to take advantage of his skills. Lotulelei could be a three-down player for the Steelers and provide a good inside pass rush on third down situations.
As I said, it's highly unlikely that the Lotulelei would be around when the Steelers pick 17th overall. But what is a certainty is that Pittsburgh will be interested in the Utah defensive lineman?
The Steelers may not have the ammunition to jump up to get Lotulelei, but if they like him enough, they'll certainly look into it.