Star Lotulelei is 6th in NFL.com rookie rankings

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

A fast start had slowed in recent weeks, but the Panthers still got one of the draft's best.

Star Lotulelei looked like the best rookie of the 2013 class following the first three games of the season. His status has cooled slightly, but is still ranked sixth among rookie players by Chris Wesserling of NFL.com.

Lotulelei has totaled 11 tackles and one sack this season, but has done far more for the Panthers by plugging the middle of the field and helping Carolina develop one of the league's best run defenses, currently ranked forth in the NFL.

It's hard for fans outside of the Carolinas understanding how well Lotulelei has played, which will probably lead to some questions about him being ranked higher than Kenny Vaccaro -- who already looks like one of the league's better young safeties. The issue is that nose tackles rarely pop off the page, and like offensive guards it's often better to not notice them. Rarely does a nose tackle get an immense amount of pressure, but a really good one will make the players around him better by osmosis.

Look no further than Luke Kuechly's stop rate, Thomas Davis' season or Kawann Short's early success to see what having a strong nose tackle means for this defense. Now we wait for the rookie to turn the corner once again, which will likely happen sooner rather than later.

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