1. He makes other players look good. Lotulelei's primary job with the Panthers has been to engage multiple blockers, plug running lanes and free up his linebackers to make plays. The dirty work, if you will.
“The biggest thing more so than anything else is (Lotulelei) allows the linebackers to run. It's important,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera told the Charlotte Observer in August. “You have to have space-eaters, guys that are going to absorb and take up blockers. That's what he does. He does it about as well as anybody.”
2. He was ready to bet on himself. Even though Lotulelei's role with the Panthers didn't put him in a position to put up huge stats – in 76 career games (75 starts), he has 141 tackles (83 solo), 11.5 sacks, five passes defensed, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries – the 6-foot-2, 315-p0under is confident in his abilities.
“I don't think there's a whole lot of people that can do what I can do,” Lotulelei told the Panthers' official website at the end of the 2017 season. “The physicality and intelligence that I bring, I don't think there's a whole lot of people that have that combination. ... I know I'll find a job, if it's here or somewhere else."
3. The analytics crowd has not been a fan lately. The website Pro Football Focus, which assigns grades to every NFL player, ranked Lotulelei 45th out of 49 defensive tackles who took at least 50 percent of their team's snaps in 2017. That's one spot ahead of Bills defensive tackle Adolphus Washington. In 2016, Lotulelei ranked 20th out of 31 defensive tackles who took at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, and in 2015 he was 27th out of 37.
It was a different story the first two year's of Lotulelei's professional career. As a rookie, he ranked 14th out of 40 qualifying defensive tackles, while in 2014 he was 15th out of 40.
4. He was an elite draft prospect. Lotulelei won the Morris Trophy in 2011, which is given annually to the best defensive lineman in the Pac-12. Despite some talk he might leave school early for the NFL, he returned for his senior season at Utah, finishing with 42 tackles, five sacks, 11 tackles for loss, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. He was named a first-team Associated Press All-American, just the fourth in Utah program history.
Heading into the 2013 draft, Lotulelei was considered a top-five prospect by both of ESPN's draft experts, Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Some mock drafts at the time even had him in the running to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Lotulelei's draft stock took a bit of a hit when he was unable to work out at the NFL Scouting Combine. During the battery of physical tests performed, doctors observed abnormalities seen in an echocardiogram – Lotulelei's left ventricle was reportedly pumping at 44 percent efficiency compared with the normal range of 55 to 70 percent.
A few weeks before the draft, Dr. Josef Stehlik of University of Utah Cardiology wrote a letter to all NFL teams explaining that Lotulelei had been cleared "to participate in professional athletics without restrictions."
Stehlik wrote in his letter, which was obtained by ESPN's Joe Schad, that Lotulelei's abnormal test may have been because of a viral infection and that he had shown a "complete normalization of the heart muscle function."
5. He's a native of Tonga. Lotulelei moved to Utah at the age of 9 with his family. He's named after his father, Sitaliti (Tongan for starlight).
Story topics: Star Lotulelei