For years, the Carolina Panthers have been searching for a dominant presence in the middle of their defensive front. They took shots with Terrell McClain and Sione Fua in 2011, but both turned out to be misses. Their 2013 first-round pick, Star Lotulelei, appears to be a bull’s-eye, though.
After a solid showing throughout the preseason, Lotulelei earned the starting defensive tackle job along one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The Panthers’ season opener against the Seattle Seahawks was his first opportunity to live up to his first-round billing, and he didn’t disappoint.
Lining up alongside the likes of Greg Hardy, Charles Johnson and Dwan Edwards, Lotulelei continuously stood out for the Panthers defense. The Utah product shined against the run, making four tackles while clogging lanes in the middle. He abused the entire interior of the Seahawks offensive line and caused headaches for running back Marshawn Lynch, who turned in a rough game on the ground.
Lotulelei also made an impact as a pass rusher. He was credited with two hurries (one negated by penalty) and showed an ability to put offensive lineman on their heels. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished with the game with a 2.8 overall rating, the highest of any Panthers defender.
Whether it was against the run or pass, Lotulelei always seemed to be in the backfield and walked away with a dominant performance, something that the Panthers have been desperately searching for at the defensive tackle spot.
While he’s far from elite status, Lotulelei gave the Panthers plenty of reason to believe he was a steal with the No. 14 overall pick last April. Expect him to build on his impressive debut as the season rolls along.
Final Week 1 Grade: A