The Shutdown 50: Utah DT Star Lotulelei

Doug Farrar
April 24, 2013

With the 2012 NFL season in the books, and the scouting combine in the rear-view, it's time to take a closer look at the 50 players we think will be the biggest difference-makers at the next level from this draft class. To that end, we're happy to continue this year's Shutdown 50 scouting reports (Hint: There may actually be more than 50). You can read last year's group here. The final 50 players were chosen and ranked based on game tape, combine and Pro Day results, overall positional value, and attributes and liabilities on and off the field.

#4: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

We continue this year's series with Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, Shutdown Corner's highest-rated defensive player in the 2013 draft class. Though he was often completely dominant in 2012, drawing comparisons to some of the best defensive linemen of the last 25 years, Lotulelei's road to the draft process wasn't exactly straight. Born in Tonga, he developed a love for football at Bingham High School in South Jordan, Utah, and BYU was a natural next step -- but he wound up attending Snow College in Utah for two years and playing for just one instead after his effort for the game was questioned and he failed to qualify for BYU. He also spent time as a furniture mover, a job he hated, and he eventually got it together enough to find himself on Utah's radar.

He started the final three games for the Utes at defensive tackle in 2010, and really exploded onto the scene the following season, when he won the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's most outstanding lineman. He decided to stay in school for the 2012 season -- a wise move, as he appeared to play even more effectively, upping his tackle for loss, sack, and forced fumble totals. Going into the pre-draft process, Lotulelei was thought to be a lead-pipe lock as a top-5 draft pick.

However, an irregular cardiogram reading at the scouting combine prevented him from working out there and complicated his NFL prospects. Lotulelei subsequently passed a battery of tests, and his heart readings may have been related to dehydration. At his pro day on March 20, Lotulelei was cleared to work out by cardiologist Josef Stehlik, referred to Lotulelei's agent, Bruce Tollner, by the San Francisco 49ers. The 6-foot-3, 311-pound Lotulelei put up 38 reps on the 225-pound bench press, had a 30-inch vertical leap, ran the three-cone drill in 7.76 seconds, and the short shuttle in 4.65 seconds. Though Tollner didn't want Lotulelei to run 40-yard dashes due to conditioning issues, he did anyway, clocking in at 5.31 and 5.36.

Those pro day numbers would have tied Lotulelei for first among defensive linemen at the combine with SMU's Margus Hunt and Missouri Southern's Brandon Williams in the bench press, tied with Florida's Sharrif Floyd in the middle of the pack on the vertical, and on the high side for defensive tackles in both agility tests.

Lotulelei's past "motor" issues, along with the residue of the heart tests, may have some teams pushing him down their boards. But the game tape tells a very clear story -- this is a potentially franchise-defining defensive player.

Pros: Displays tremendous power, burst and suddenness as a nose tackle -- either shading to the guard or with his head over center, which makes him a potential force in multiple fronts. Comes off the snap with alarming speed, pushes back with superior leverage and a wide base, and makes bad things happen to enemy blockers. Gets his hands out right away to attack the pads and chest of his opponent. Has the power to bull-rush and push blockers back, but his first instinct is to disrupt. At times, displays freakish upper-body strength and will throw a blocker aside to advance in the pocket.

Wrap tackler with good technique who enjoys throwing running backs around. Seems to have a real affinity for physical dominance in his overall mentality -- will build off this from one play to the next. Frequently takes on double teams and even when he doesn't beat them, he's always looking to peel off to stop players at the line or in space. Depending on scheme, could be effective in the NFL everywhere from nose to three-tech to end in certain fronts.

Cons: Plays a very high number of snaps and tends to wear down over time as a result -- late in games, he'll lose some strength, agility, and run-and-chase. Could use a more consistent set of pass-rush moves as he relies too much on his strength and starts to get pancaked when it runs short. Has struggled with weight in the past. Passed all the heart re-checks following irregular reading at the scouting combine, but some teams may still shy away.

Conclusion: While it's clear that Lotulelei can become even better with a few technique fixes, it's his sheer physical dominance that puts him on a different level, and has some comparing him to Baltimore's Haloti Ngata. I'm of the opinion that while he isn't quite as agile as Ngata, he's even more powerful, and I'm reminded of Warren Sapp in his prime. Lotulelei doesn't have Sapp's ability to knife through blockers as a dominant pass-rusher, but in a power/speed sense, he's very comparable. In any case, some team is going to throw the iffy stuff aside and pull the trigger on Lotulelei very early in the draft, and that team will be rewarded with a special player who is able to affect opposing offenses in many different ways.

NFL Comparison: Warren Sapp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2000-2003)

More Shutdown 50:

#50: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State | #49: John Jenkins, DL, Georgia | #48: Cornellius "Tank" Carradine, DE, Florida State | #47: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State | #46: Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse | #45: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State | #44: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU | #43: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson | #42: Kyle Long, OL, Oregon | #41: Mike Glennon, QB, North Carolina State | #40: Jonathan Cyprien, SS, Florida International | #39: Manti Te'o, LB, Notre Dame | #38: Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU | #37: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama | #36: Johnthan Banks, DB, Mississippi State | #35: Jesse Williams, DT, Alabama | #34: Matt Barkley, QB, USC | #33: Tyler Wilson, QB, Arkansas | #32: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford | #31: Matt Elam, SS, Florida | #30: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas | #29: Damontre Moore, DE, Texas A&M | #28: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State | #27: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia | #26: Robert Woods, WR, USC | #25: Kevin Minter, ILB, LSU | #24: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama | #23: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington | #22: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal | #21: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame | #20: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas | #19: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri | #18: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State | #17: Barkevious Mingo, DE/OLB, LSU | #16: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA | #15: D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston | #14: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee | #13: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU | #12: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia | #11: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia | #10: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia | #9: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama | #8: Dion Jordan, OLB/DE, Oregon | #7: Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina | #6: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma | #5: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida