By Dan Durkin–
(CBS) As 31 other teams watched the Denver Broncos dismantle opponents’ protection schemes and harass quarterbacks en route to Super Bowl glory, they all realized they can never have too many pass rushers.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: A Sunny Start Friday
When teams stack their draft boards, consideration is given to the depth of position groups. Those with more prospects with starting grades can be addressed later on. Conversely, those with more shallow talent pools must be addressed early.
The 2016 draft class is light on edge rushers. Given the criticality of the position, some prospects are likely to hear their names called slightly earlier than expected.
Today we take a look at a gifted two-way edge prospect who transcends scheme and has tantalizing athletic talents: Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson.
DE/OLB Shaq Lawson (6-foot-2 1/2, 269 pounds, 21, Clemson)
40-yard dash: 4.7
10-yard split: 1.64
Bench: DNP (Shoulder injury that required a medical re-check)
Broad jump: 10′
Arm: 32 3/4”
Bio: Lawson was one of the nation’s top-rated prep prospects out of D.W. Daniel High School in Central, South Carolina. He initially didn’t qualify academically for Clemson, forcing him to spend a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.
When he finally arrived at Clemson in 2013, he fought for playing time on a talented defensive line but made the most of his opportunities. He appeared in all 13 games, averaged 26 snaps and finished the season with 35 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, nine quarterback pressures, four sacks and one pass breakup. The four sacks tied William Perry and Ricky Sapp for the most in Clemson history for a first-year freshman. He earned second-team freshman All-American honors.READ MORE: Two Women Who Told CBS 2 About Agonizing Waits With IDES Now Have Unemployment Benefits, And Tips If You're Still Waiting
In 2014, he again appeared in all 13 games, made one start and averaged 23 snaps. He finished the season with 44 tackles, 11 for loss, five quarterback pressures and three-and-a-half sacks.
This past season in a featured role, Lawson shined. His 24 tackles for loss led the nation. His 12.5 sacks led the ACC and were fifth-highest in the nation. Impressive totals on their own which become even more impressive considering he fought through various injuries (shoulder, knee) all season. He finished his collegiate career with 45.5 tackles for loss and 20 sacks.
How he fits the Bears’ scheme: While he ultimately may prefer to play end in a 40-front, Lawson was effective both from a two- and three-point stance at Clemson. Given his productivity against both the pass and the run, he could be used as both as a base five-technique and a stand-up rush backer in defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s scheme.
Lawson isn’t too dissimilar from what the Bears currently have in outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Lamarr Houston. He’s a powerful, relentless bull rusher with violent hands. His pass rush arsenal contains an overwhelming inside spin move as well as a chop, rip, swim and hump move.
Lawson’s a reliable and consistent edge setter against the run. He can overpower tight ends and anchors well against bigger offensive tackles. When he’s the aggressor and reads his keys, he uses a jarring punch to stack and shed blockers. He plays with vision and instinct to locate and pursue the ball.
Despite having the sixth-best 10-yard split time among defensive linemen, Lawson doesn’t have an overwhelmingly quick first step. He can be slow off the ball and occasionally lined up offsides, perhaps in an attempt to gain an extra split-second. On runs designed to go directly at him, he can get his shoulders turned and driven out of his gap. He must protect his pads better in such situations and re-anchor his lower-half to get better leverage.
Draft projection: Given his ability as as two-way edge defender and the athletic skills to match, Lawson will be a highly coveted selection. Assuming his shoulder checks out, he should be a top-15 selection.MORE NEWS: Variety Magazine Reports Lollapalooza Has Green Light To Return This Year; City Says Nothing Is Confirmed Now
Dan Durkin covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @djdurkin.