AFC South: Star Lotulelei

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei got a lot of high fives and gasps from teammates during Monday's film session when the rookie was shown knocking Tampa Bay tackle Demar Dotson on his rear end.

It was a spectacular play that illustrated the raw, physical strength of the first-round pick as he made Dotson look silly.

It was a play worthy of SportsCenter highlights and replays on YouTube.

It led to an interception by safety Mike Mitchell that the Carolina offense turned into a touchdown pass from Cam Newton to Ted Ginn Jr. four plays later.

Lotulelei should be proud, right?


"To be honest with you, I really don't like looking at that play because I didn't finish it," Lotulelei told me. "I actually missed a sack, and it was disappointing for me to watch that play."

This is a big reason the Panthers (9-3) are ranked second in the NFL in total defense. This is a big reason they have won eight straight games heading into Sunday night's battle against New Orleans (9-3) for the NFC South lead.

This is a big reason I believe they have a chance to beat the Saints in the Superdome where New Orleans has been unbeatable.

The Panthers are never satisfied.

The attitude Lotulelei expressed about that play is found throughout the defense, and in many ways throughout the entire team. It's about finishing the job, something this team finally has learned to do.

Lotulelei, as he has been much of the season, will be key against the powerful New Orleans offense. If he can disrupt the interior of the offensive line, ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy have a chance to disrupt the timing of quarterback Drew Brees.

If Lotulelei can set the tone for stopping the run, which he has done all season with a league-best run-stop percentage of 13.5 (according to Pro Football Focus), then Brees will be under even more pressure to carry the load.

"When you get pressure and get sacks, you've got a good chance to win," Lotulelei said.

And when you're not satisfied, you usually get better.

"That's really all of my feelings about that play against Tampa," saiid Lotulelei, ending this conversation. "Sacks are hard to come by in this league. It's really disappointing to see."
Chance Warmack would be my number one target here. But the Alabama guard didn’t last in our scenario. I don’t think the Titans like Jonathan Cooper the same way.

With Dion Jordan, Star Lotulelei, Dee Milliner, Warmack and Barkevious Mingo all gone, the great value here looks to be Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

Interior defensive line isn’t a pressing need. The Titans signed Sammie Hill as a free agent and they like Jurrell Casey a lot. Mike Martin played in every game as a rookie while Karl Klug suffered a second-year dip.

But they can make room for Floyd, a versatile interior player who can stop the run and get push into the backfield that will help the entire front.

I think the odds of Floyd being available at No. 10 are very remote, though.

If the Dolphins don't bowl over the Raiders with a trade for No. 3 the way James Walker did on Miami’s behalf here, I think Floyd could go third to Oakland.

1. KC: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
2. JAC: Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
3. MIA: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (Trade)
4. PHI: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
5. DET: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
6. CLE: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
7. ARI: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
8. BUF: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
9. NYJ: Barkevious Mingo, OLB-DE, LSU
10. TEN: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

Follow the draft as it continues, right here.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will draft second overall in April. The Kansas City Chiefs also finished 2-14, but as the Chiefs did so against a weaker schedule, they get the top pick.

I asked draft analyst Mike Detillier of M&D Draft Report how, if the draft was unfolding this week, he’d see things going with those two picks.

While the Chiefs need a quarterback, he doesn’t see one worth the No. 1 spot and would give the Chiefs either Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, or maybe Texans A&M Left tackle Luke Joeckel if Branden Albert were to move on as a free agent.

“Lotulelei is a tremendous inside force against the run, which has been a problem spot for them and he also gives you a real strong inside push,” Detellier said. “He is not a great inside pass rusher, but he is disruptive in the same element Haloti Ngata is. So I would go that route.

On to the No. 2 selection.

“For Jacksonville they need pressure people and I would select Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore,” Detillier said. “He’s a former outside linebacker who has grown into quite a pass rusher at defensive end and I think very highly of his potential and his pass rush skills and skill set.

“The Jaguars need to add a quality pass rusher at defensive end and Moore is the best of this group and a tremendous overall athlete and football player. He was a dominant player in the toughest conference in college football this past season.

“He has a lot of DeMarcus Ware-type pass rush skills and closing speed to the QB."

Another draft analyst, Rob Rang of NFLDraftScout, is currently projecting Joeckel to the Chiefs as he doesn't believe Albert's durability and play will command the contract he will want as a free agent.

Rang then plugs Lotulelei in for the Jaguars.

"All of the attention is heaped upon the Jacksonville offense but it was the Jaguars’ defense that was truly horrific this season," Rang said. "The Jags finished 29th in the NFL in rush defense, allowing an average of 141 yards per game and giving up 19 touchdowns on the ground.

"Worse, they finished dead last with just 20 sacks.’s top-rated defender all year long, Lotulelei has the ability to help the Jaguars improve in both areas immediately."

It’s just 115 days until the draft.

I suspect we’ll revisit this just a few times between now and then. The needs won’t change, but the philosophy for addressing them could depending on who replaces Gene Smith.