Yes, Star Lotulelei was rated by many experts, back in January and February, as the #1 overall prospect in the entire NFL Draft, or at the very least among the top three.
That changed with the NFL Scouting Combine and the now-infamous “heart palpitation” that was diagnosed there, keeping Star from participating in most of the workouts. Some have said he’s been “completely cleared” for play, but there’s more to the story here.
What happened was that Lotulelei’s heart, the physical organ I mean, does not supply quite the amount of blood a “normal” heart does.
Let me back up a moment and say I do have some formal medical training as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, but could not finish school due to my own physical injuries – another story in itself, but one you don’t want to hear about I’m sure. Suffice it to say I’m somewhere between your average Joe and a doctor….albeit closer to the average Joe…but my field of study was to be one of those folks at the hospital that do heart stress tests, so I know a little about it.
We all have 4-chambered hearts as human beings, and the left ventricle is the part of the heart muscle that actually squeezes oxygenated blood OUT to go through your body and supplies your body’s cells with those energy-carrying red blood cells that carry oxygen in and carbon dioxide out, back to the heart, to go back to the lungs, and exchange CO2 for O2, when the process repeats itself.
The medical term for how efficiently one’s left ventricle works is called the “ejection fraction.” While different sources vary slightly, a “normal” E.F. is about 55%-70%, meaning 55%-70% of the blood in the chamber is pumped out with each contraction.
Star’s ejection fraction was later calculated to be about 44%.
That’s not low enough to say “he has heart issues” but not high enough to say he’s in the lower-end of the “normal” range.
Larger individuals tend to have less efficient ejection fractions than do rail-thin people. It’s Human physiology.
But what does this MEAN?
This is where my expertise in medicine officially ends, but by putting a few things together from school from years past, I think I have a clue as to what’s going on…both with Star Lotulelei and the Panthers’ draft.
What this all boils down to is while Star may be medically “okay,” he possibly won’t ever quite have the same endurance as a similarly-sized NFL defensive lineman who has a higher E.F. – say, 60%. Remember – larger people (like NFL linemen) generally have a lower E.F. but many athletes make up for this by being in top physical condition.
In Star’s case, either it didn’t matter or doesn’t matter enough to raise this ratio. Also, if he DOES “get winded” a little more easily than an average lineman, well, I think that may be a large part of the reason the Panthers went ahead and drafted a second defensive tackle while they were at it.
It makes perfect sense. Star and Kawann are both accomplished run-stuffers, but the two have slightly different strengths. At this point, it would appear that Kawann Short and Dwan Edwards will be playing the same position while Star nails down the other interior slot, but I think Short was drafted to rotate into BOTH positions, depending on the flow of the game.
David Gettleman, Ron Rivera, and the Panthers organization obviously have a lot more information than you or I do, but when I got to thinking about the situation in its entirety, this was what came to me as the most logical explanation for going DT, DT in round one, two respectively in the NFL draft late last month.
Star Lotulelei may well wind up being one of those linemen that can stay on the field for every single snap. However, we don’t know that for sure yet, and I can see the stamina concerns the organization may have regarding his soon-to-come NFL future.
If the coaching staff has to pull him out earlier for a rest than most rookies, then here the Panthers would be…late in a drive, probably on their own half of the field or even the red zone, and they’re taking out their newest, best toy on defense for a blow?
That could be why they drafted Short – so that there would be little drop-off rotating another fresh young body into the mix and when they need him the most. It also does, in fact, provide all those other things that are more obvious – depth, youth, and an injection of more talent that the defensive interior has needed for years.
I just thought I’d bring this up as something to keep an eye on, specifically, in the preseason and as the regular season progresses. Watch Lotulelei’s participation and how often he gets “subbed-out” for a fresh player.
It might just reveal if my hypothesis has any merit to it. At worst, I’m 100% correct. At best, well, Gettleman and Rivera decided to double-down on the position due to lack of depth and/or concern over injuries that may or may not occur.