Panthers may have gotten draft day steal as Lotulelei dominates in NFL debut
Marshawn Lynch didn't earn the nickname "Beast Mode" by dancing at the line of scrimmage and hitting the turf at first contact - this is one of the most bruising runners we have seen in recent history. He runs behind a barbaric group of blockers whose talents are maximized by offensive line coach Tom Cable. The team finished 2012 with the third ranked rushing offense, and they are expected to be dominant once again in 2013.
When the Seahawks headed to Charlotte to take on the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, it seemed like the run game would be what propelled Marshawn Lynch and company to victory. The Panthers finished 2012 ranked 18th in opponent yards per carry, and the struggles came largely due to a lack of talent on the interior of their defensive line. Top defensive tackle Dwan Edwards is a solid pass rusher, but would be a backup on a number of other teams. The other tackle in the Panthers' 4-3 scheme was Ron Edwards, who appeared to be nothing more than a washed up, injury-prone liability in 2012.
The Seahawks, however, struggled to run the ball in their 2013 season opener. How could a team that struggled so badly against the run have bottled up one of the league's elite ground attacks?
The Panthers wisely targeted a defensive lineman with their first pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and one of the draft's biggest steals may have fallen right into their lap.
Utah's Star Lotulelei was considered by some to be the top player in the entire draft when the pre-draft process started, and he was initially the unquestioned top defensive tackle. The film I watched showed a player who swallowed up opposing linemen and drove them backwards, closing off lanes for running backs and giving quarterbacks little room to step up in the pocket. Some analysts thought he would go first overall to the Kansas City Chiefs, and at one point during the mock draft season, I agreed.
However, scouts grew wary of Lotulelei for a few reasons. The most concerning matter was that of Lotulelei's heart, which was red-flagged due to an irregular heartbeat at the NFL combine. The heart problem was later deemed a non-issue, but Lotulelei's draft stock failed to rise back up after the scare. What also had scouts concerned about Lotulelei was his ability to rush the passer at the next level. He only had 5.0 sacks as a senior, but from what I saw, Lotulelei would constantly crush the pocket and make life more difficult for the quarterback while freeing up other pass rushers.
These concerns caused Lotulelei - who was once considered a lock to go in the top-3 - to drop to the Panthers at 14th overall, and they gladly added him to their team.