Star Lotulelei appears to be back on the right track. (Getty Images)
Before the heart condition that was diagnosed at the scouting combine, Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei was thought by most NFL analysts to be a top-3 pick in the upcoming draft, and top-10 at worst. But it was reported on February 24 that abnormalities seen in his echocardiogram -- Lotulelei's left ventricle was pumping at 44 percent efficiency compared with the normal range of 55 to 70 percent.
That put his combine drills on the shelf, and his future as a high draft prospect in doubt. There has been some speculation that Lotulelei's reading could have been related to dehydration, and Jeff Reynolds of the Sports Xchange reported in late February that Lotulelei lost 10 pounds in a three-day stretch as he prepared for the combine's frenetic schedule.
On Wednesday, Utah held its pro day, and Lotulelei got another chance to prove to NFL teams what he couldn't in Indianapolis. By all accounts, be absolutely nailed it. Multiple reports indicated that 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.
Gil Brandt of NFL.com reported that Lotulelei was cleared to work out by cardiologist Josef Stehlik, referred to Lotulelei's agent, Bruce Tollner, by the San Francisco 49ers. Lotulelei will visit Stehlik again in April. Brandt also said that Tollner didn't want Lotulelei to run 40-yard dashes due to conditioning issues, but he did anyway, clocking in at 5.31 and 5.36.
Those pro day numbers would have tied Lotulelei for first among defensive linemen 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. The 40s would have been on the low end of the scale, but the fact that he felt comfortable running them at all seems to indicate that he's on the mend.
NFL Network analyst Akbar Gbajabiamila reported that Lotulelei was just as impressive when going up against pads in position drills.
Star Lotulelei 38 reps on the bench, 3 cone of 7.76 and shuttle of 4.65. Dominated position drills w/ multiple D-Line coaches. #DoubleCheck
— Akbar Gbajabiamila (@Akbar_Gbaja) March 20, 2013
If Lotulelei gets multiple clean bills of health and the reading at the combine isn't seen to indicate a chronic condition, he could easily be the first defensive player selected in the draft, and perhaps the first player taken overall -- because the tape shows a player who is every bit that good.
Lotulelei comes off the snap with the speed of a linebacker, but has the pure strength to demolish double-teams with ease, reminding me at times of Warren Sapp at his peak. He finished the 2012 season with 42 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries.
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