Is Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei worthy of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft?
That's the million dollar question for scouts around the league without a consensus choice as the top prospect of the 2013 draft class.
Although West Virginia's Geno Smith and USC's Matt Barkley will garner serious consideration as the first overall pick based on their value as potential franchise quarterbacks, the lack of a few blue-chip characteristics could prevent either guy from claiming the top spot. In addition, the possibility of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns or Carolina Panthers earning the top pick could change the draft landscape, seeing as all three teams recently spent a first-round pick on a quarterback.
Every Monday, NFL.com college football expert Bucky Brooks looks back on the weekend action and evaluates which prospects are rising and which are sliding.
Given the likelihood of those scenarios unfolding, scouts are furiously attempting to identify a player worthy of consideration as the biggest impact player in the 2013 class. While the aforementioned Barkley and Smith stand out on the offensive side of the ball, the defense features Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and Lotulelei as crown jewels of the senior class.
I've previously discussed Te'o in this column, and he might be the best defensive player in the draft, but the inside linebacker position isn't valued at a premium and that might lead teams to focus on Lotulelei and his rock-solid game.
In watching tape of Lotulelei from this season, I'm impressed with his combination of size, strength and athleticism. At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, Lotulelei is a low-leverage player with outstanding first-step quickness. He explodes off the ball at the snap and shows tremendous pop engaging with blockers. Lotulelei's brute strength and power overwhelms most opponents, resulting in consistent penetration into the backfield against the run. When Lotulelei isn't able to overpower blockers with bull-rush moves, he displays the athleticism and body control to win with quickness. He flashes the burst to chase down runners in a short area, and his ability to evade blockers at the point of attack with finesse moves is surprising considering his size.
As a pass rusher, Lotulelei is a powerful penetrator with the capacity to walk defenders into the lap of the quarterback. Although his hand work and rush moves remain unpolished, Lotulelei's natural strength and power allows him to collapse the pocket from up the gut, forcing quarterbacks to move from their sweet spot. Lotulelei would be hard-pressed to develop into a double-digit sack artist from the interior, but his ability to press the pocket and alter the quarterback's timing is a valuable trait that coaches appreciate in the middle of a defense.
In pointing out flaws in Lotulelei's game, I would cite an inconsistent motor as his biggest weakness.