Back to the defensive side of the ball, Carl Lawson hits the 4th edition of my scouting reports. An EDGE rusher from Auburn that can play with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 defensive end or be standing up as 3-4 outside linebacker. Lawson was widely considered a top 5 pick at the beginning of the college football season all the way back in August. He has since slid down many draft experts big boards due to his inconsistency against the run, injury history, along with the emergence of big name pass rushers like Myles Garrett, Taco Charlton, and Derek Barnett.
A man amongst boys, Carl Lawson jumps off on tape and can show he belongs with top pass rushers in the class. A closer look at him reveals that with good coaching he can become a perennial pro bowler and have a similar impact to Miami Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake.
Carl Lawson (RS Junior) #55
Height: 6′ 2”
Weight: 261 lbs
Arm Length: 31 1/2”
Hands: 10 3/8”
Combine Results *Highest Bench Press and 20-yard shuttle of linebackers*
Big time potential is the main phrase that comes up with pass rusher Carl Lawson. An absolute force when it comes to attacking the quarterback will catch your eye when watching him play, but there are concerns that have him dropped down NFL team’s draft boards.
The first thing many teams look at and is the most important ability of any player that is being evaluated is availability. Carl Lawson hasn’t shown too much availability over his college career missing all of the 2014 season when he tore his ACL in spring practices resulting in being redshirted. The following season he came out strong in the season opener but cracked his hip, causing the pass rusher to miss the next 6 games.
The good news is that Lawson played the entire 2016 season healthy. He passed all of the required health checks and medical testing at the combine and has no current red flags. That should give teams some breathing room when asking themselves, “Can he stay healthy for a season?” It should still be marked and knock him down when scouting the Auburn defender.
From his full 2016 season, Carl Lawson showed off his strength, pass-rushing ability and burst when going up against elite level offensive lineman in the SEC. His most impressive game was against Mississippi State where he had 2 sacks and a forced fumble.
On the far side of the clip above, Lawson rips through the left tackle’s hands like paper and pokes the ball right out of QB Nick Fitzgerald’s hands resulting in a scoop and score by the Auburn defense. With hands the size of a bear, the edge rusher uses this to his advantage when taking on blockers that can’t get their hands on him first. Ripping through the Miss. St. o-lineman made Lawson look like a taller James Harrison, utilizing his elite strength and great bend to sack the quarterback and cause a touchdown.
For his second sack (above), Lawson uses an underneath move to get around the right tackle while battling his way to Fitzgerald. His sheer power to dominate offensive tackles is demonstrated on pass rushing plays where he overpowers them, gets underneath them and finishes with great pursuit on the quarterback.
With an addition 24 QB hurries during his final season, Lawson was a problem for opposing college quarterbacks and looks like he can be a problem for NFL quarterbacks in the upcoming years. The big things that you look for in a pass rusher are what Lawson has, bend to get around the tackles, strength to overpower lineman (highest bench press at the combine of his position group) and pass rushing moves to counter an offensive lineman.
With elite strengths in Lawson’s game comes some serious weaknesses. Defending the run is not in Lawson’s vocabulary. At times, the Auburn OLB will stay on a block too long while trying to observe the running back in the backfield to see what gap he intends to run through. Other occasions he gets completely shoved out of the play by a pulling guard or tackle like in the gif below.
This was Lawson’s last game of the season against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. He did not fare well in the run game getting washed out multiple times and not setting the edge like he should. Plays like these result in touchdowns at the next level and not just 25-30 yard gains.
Lawson here (below) is blocked for a solid 2-3 seconds by #71 and makes RB Joe Mixon look like Le’Veon Bell while reading the play at the line of scrimmage. Lawson needs to be more aggressive and not let tackles control him in the run game. He has the strength and the explosiveness to beat offensive lineman but needs to shed blocks at the next level in order to become a three-down player.
Lawson wasn’t terrible in Auburn’s bowl game, he consistently applied pressure to QB Baker Mayfield like the clip below resulting in a third down stop.
His burst out of his stance is something that Lawson displays very well on this play. Number 71 that did well in the run game against him could not contain Lawson around the edge getting beat badly here. You cannot teach some things in the NFL and the explosiveness that #55 has is one of those unteachable things. Scouts and coaches love to see that and keep note of that when ranking pass rusher’s on their big boards.
One other noteworthy matter while watching Carl Lawson on tape was his discipline. On three occasions of four games I watched of him, he was called for offsides penalties, usually lining his hand over the line of scrimmage. Lawson is looking for that extra boost off the edge by lining up rather close to offensive tackles. According to Pro Football Focus, Lawson was called for 6 offsides or neutral zone infraction penalties during the 2016 college football season. It’s a fixable part of his game but it’s still something to keep in mind.
The big handed, strong-armed, treacherous EDGE rusher has a lot to like about his game that grants him an early day 2 pick in this week’s draft. He’ll be limited in the NFL at first to a third down pass rusher early in his career until he develops more counter moves and flexibility in the run game. He has the traits to develop into one of the greater pass rushers in this draft and I feel like he could be an option to be selected by any team that’s looking for a 3-4 outside linebacker rather than a 4-3 defensive end.
Possible fits include Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, or the Dallas Cowboys. Whoever drafts Lawson no matter what round they must expect him to adjust to the learning curve of NFL. He’ll to develop more moves, discipline and learn to shed blocks before he becomes a starter in the league. His high ceiling will help him get drafted higher than more balanced EDGE rushers.