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Utah Utes standout Star Lotulelei tops NFL draft board; Manti Te'o, Ziggy Ansah also first-rounders

Published: Monday, Aug. 31 2015 2:22 p.m. MDT

Utah Utes defensive tackle Star Lotulelei celebrates a tackle for loss against USC during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Utah Utes defensive tackle Star Lotulelei celebrates a tackle for loss against USC during Pac-12 football in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

The Utah Utes football team is staying home for the holidays after a disappointing season. But All-American defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is still making headlines.

Todd McShay, an NFL Draft analyst for ESPN, has placed Lotulelei at the top of his draft board, predicting him to go first overall to the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Lotulelei will never be an elite pass-rusher," McShay wrote, "but he is strong against the run and has the quickness and power to collapse the pocket. He could become a mainstay in the middle and be good for five to seven sacks per year."

If Lotulelei were selected first, he would be the second player from Utah to earn that honor. The San Francisco 49ers drafted quarterback Alex Smith first overall in 2005.

Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Ezekiel Ansah (47) blocks a pass by Washington State Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel (10) in Provo  Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012.  (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Brigham Young Cougars linebacker Ezekiel Ansah (47) blocks a pass by Washington State Cougars quarterback Jeff Tuel (10) in Provo Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

In his senior season with the Utes, Lotulelei tallied 42 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, five sacks and three forced fumbles. He was also named a first-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Two other draft analysts, Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com, predict Lotulelei will go fifth overall, to the Carolina Panthers.

"Lotulelei isn't as consistent as scouts would like, but when he's firing on all cylinders, he's tough to control," Brugler wrote.

Lotulelei isn't the only in-state player getting draft attention. BYU defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah is on McShay's first-round draft board, as well. McShay has Ansah going to the Colts with the 24th pick.

"Ansah is raw, but he made huge strides in 2012 and showed impressive versatility for a player with limited experience," McShay wrote. "He also has a rare combination of size and speed. While Ansah is a project, the potential reward if he reaches his potential could be worth the risk."

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o during the game as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend. Notre Dame won 17-14. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News) Notre Dame's Manti Te'o during the game as BYU and Notre Dame play Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012 in South Bend. Notre Dame won 17-14. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

Rang and Brugler differ on Ansah's placement, but both have him going in the first round. Rang predicts Ansah will go 20th to the Cincinnati Bengals, while Brugler pegs him at 31st, to the Atlanta Falcons.

"Ansah is one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country as the Ghana native has only been playing football for three years and yet has demonstrated rare athleticism at 6-5, 270 pounds," Rang wrote.

Notre Dame linebacker and devout Mormon Manti Te'o was also mentioned prominently in each mock draft. McShay has the Buffalo Bills selecting the Heisman runner-up at 11th overall, while both Rang and Brugler say the Detroit Lions will take him with the seventh pick.

"The Lions have been very streaky on defense and need to add some leadership on that side of the ball," Brugler wrote. "Te'o would not only bring his talented skill-set to Detroit, but he would also bring a positive influence to a squad with more than a few questionable characters."

Email: lshumway@desnews.com; Twitter: TheShums

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