Lotulelei will plug Panthers’ biggest gap

April 25, 2013 

A few thoughts on the first half of the first round of the NFL draft:

• 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 with his heart (he has since been cleared).

Still, 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 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.

• ESPN’s TV coverage of the draft is certainly thorough, but that much Chris Berman will wear thin on anybody after awhile. Berman fell in love Thursday night with a Lego-based analogy – something about linemen being the “rectangles” and “squares” upon which all Lego forts are built. Or something like that. I think Mel Kiper Jr. and Jon Gruden were as tired of it as I was, judging from their expressions.

• It was true, however, that this draft was for NFL junkies. Five of the first 10 picks were offensive linemen, and there were no quarterbacks and no running backs in that group. I don’t remember an NFL draft with a lower profile.

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