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Ron Rivera: Shining Star for Bills to see what their D can truly be

ORLANDO, Fla. – Star has diminished.

That's what the analytics say about new Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei.

Asked to shine some light on his former player, Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera dismissed any data that suggests Lotulelei has slipped after five NFL seasons.

"Let me tell you this about analytics," Rivera said, repeating one of his pet sayings. "Figures lie, and liars figure, OK?

"You can find a stat to say whatever you want it to."

Rivera sat with reporters Tuesday morning during the coaches breakfast at the annual NFL owners meeting and took time to praise Lotulelei's unheralded presence.

"He's one of those guys you can't judge" through analytics, Rivera said.

Lotulelei was signed to fill the run-stopping role Marcell Dareus handled before the Bills unloaded that monstrous contract to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round draft choice.

Lotulelei signed a five-year, $50 million contract two weeks ago. Dareus has four years remaining on his six-year, $96.5 million deal.

The analytics evaluators at Pro Football Focus also consider Lotulelei a hefty talent markdown from Dareus.

PFF rated Lotulelei 72nd out of the 79 defensive tackles who played at least 25 percent of their teams' snaps last season. PFF graded him negatively against the run and as a pass-rusher.

Lotulelei ranked 51st a year earlier, 50th in 2015, 18th in 2014 and 15th as a rookie. Over the same span, Dareus ranked 38th, 16th, ninth, fourth and seventh.

Rivera doesn't buy the idea Lotulelei is an ineffective interior defender despite only six solo tackles and 1.5 sacks last season.

Rivera mentioned the impact to All-Pro linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, outside linebacker Shaq Thompson and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kawann Short.

"Is he making those guys better?" Rivera asked. "That's the type of player he is."

The Bills apparently aren't concerned either.

GM Brandon Beane used to be in the Panthers' front office. Bills coach Sean McDermott was Rivera's previous defensive coordinator.

"I know, having watched them, when they lost Dareus they lost the ability for their linebackers to run," Rivera said. "What you need is a space-eater, a guy that's going to get in there and demand the double teams, keep the double teams on him and allow the linebackers to run.

"If they don't keep the doubles on him, Star's quickness, his explosiveness off the ball, he'll get into the running back. He'll get into the backfield, be very disruptive for the running backs and quarterbacks. He'll get an inside push. He'll allow those defensive ends to come off the edge and be tough for that quarterback to step up into the pocket."

Buffalo still needs to identify its middle linebacker. Preston Brown led the NFL last season with 144 tackles, but many view that statistic as misleading, too.

The Bills let Brown leave in free agency. He signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.

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