As I wrote in Thursday’s newspaper, I wanted the Panthers to pick a steamroller with their first pick, and they did so with Utah defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.
He was the first top-50 choice the Panthers have used on a defensive tackle since Kris Jenkins in 2001, and in the ideal world he will be the player who occupies two blockers inside and frees up Luke Kuechly to make tons of tackles and Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson to rush the passer more effectively. Lotulelei is more of a run-stopper than a pass rusher, though, and of course there was the medical issue earlier this year with his heart (he was since cleared).
I like this pick. The Panthers’ biggest talent deficiency was at defensive tackle, a hole they have often tried to fill over the years with veteran free agents or later-round draft picks that often have never quite worked out. If Star becomes a star, this will be a much better defense – and it wasn’t a bad one already.
Panthers GM Dave Gettleman said Thursday night he believed Lotulei could be a “three-down” defensive lineman, meaning he wouldn’t have to come off the field on passing downs (although the Panthers, like almost all NFL teams, rotate their defensive linemen pretty frequently). Gettleman said last week he thought the Panthers could get two starters with their first two picks – their No.44 overall choice comes up Friday. Gettleman said if you looked at Super Bowl teams that they always had strong defensive fronts, and the Panthers hope they have strengthened their defensive line considerably with this pick.
Lotulelei is married and has two daughters, and he spent draft night with his family in Utah instead of going to New York to be part of the glitz. He was the second straight Panther pick to skip out on New York in favor of home -- Kuechly did that, too, in 2012, and he turned out to be quite a pick.