NFL Draft: Panthers select Star Lotulelei with No. 14 pick
With the No. 14 pick in the first round, the Carolina Panthers selected defensive tackle Star Lotulelei out of Utah. Lotulelei may be the most punishing run-stuffer to enter the NFL Draft since Haloti Ngata in 2006. Doctors cleared Lotulelei to return to football without restrictions earlier this month after it was revealed he experienced a heart condition in February at the NFL scouting combine.
Perhaps the most intimidating, pure run-stuffing defensive tackle to enter the NFL Draft since Haloti Ngata in 2006, Lotulelei can immediately solidify the Panthers' interior line. Lotulelei combines an explosive first step with a powerful build that allows him to easily stonewall double teams. It could explain why Lotulelei recorded 19 tackles for losses over the last two seasons.
Although Lotulelei struggled to get to opposing quarterbacks at times in the Pac-12, he still impacted the game in other ways. In a 38-28 loss to USC last October, Lotulelei perfectly timed the snap and exploded off the ball to recover a fumble exchange between Matt Barkley and Khaled Holmes. Weeks later on a third-down pass against Arizona, Lotulelei shed a double team and came from out of the play to stuff Wildcats running back Ka’Deem Carey short of the first-down marker. Lotulelei also plays with a mean streak. One play after Washington left tackle Micah Hatchie cut him below the knee in the first quarter of a November loss, Lotulelei responded by shoving him twice below his chin strap in retaliation.
There were concerns Lotulelei’s draft stock could slip after he was diagnosed with a heart condition in February at the NFL scouting combine. Chris Mortensen of ESPN, who broke the story, reported that Lotulelei's left ventricle pumped at a 44 percent efficiency compared to the normal range of 55 to 70 percent.
Earlier this month, however, Lotulelei was cleared by doctors to return to football without restrictions. CBSSports.com obtained a letter to Lotulelei's agent, Bruce Tollner, from Dr. Joseph Stehlik of the University of Utah Health Sciences Cardiology Division that confirmed the findings.
"A treadmill stress test showed normal response of the heart to exercise, and an ambulatory EKG monitor revealed normal findings,” Stehlik wrote. “This evaluation suggested that the initial heart function abnormality was likely transient, possibly resulting from a viral infection.”
With Lotulelei now cleared, the former Utes lineman can help the Panthers' defense in innumerable ways. As Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout.com points out, Lotulelei “has a developing arm-over swim move to break free from blockers when initially slowed at the point of attack. He locates the ball well and gives good effort in lateral pursuit to make the tackle,” Rang writes. “(Lotulelei also) has a short-area burst to close on the ball and can generate impressive explosiveness as a hitter.”
The Panthers ranked 14th against the run in 2012.
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