Strengths: Lawson is a supremely talented prospect that never really reached his full potential. He is a long LB who is a sound tackler, and who was very good at TE coverage for the Niners. He was always very assignment-sound on first and second downs for the 49ers. Lawson is solid vs. the run but even better in coverage. He uses his long arms and athleticism to stay with the opposing TE and has enough ball skills to make a play on the ball.
Weaknesses: Lawson played DE at North Carolina State and was converted to OLB when he was drafted by the 49ers. This should mean he is a good pass rusher, but Lawson never developed that part of his game. His OLB responsibilities were mostly contain and cover but seldom rush while with San Francisco. When he did kick down to DE to rush the passer, he was never very productive, topped out at 6.5 sacks in a season. As a pass rusher, he didn't have much for moves. Mostly bull rush and hope the QB comes to him. Lawson has long arms, so he can stay clean & get off blocks, but can't bend the edge, no real swim or rip moves. In run defense, the knock on Manny is that he's not super physical. He stays clean on blocks; he doesn't blow them up like a Maualuga does.
Overall Impression: Manny Lawson was drafted to be a 3-4 OLB and Nickel pass rusher. He never really turned into the pass rusher many expected him to be. Instead, Lawson has actually become a good coverage LB. This almost never happens for college DEs trying to convert to LB in the NFL, but Lawson was a physical specimen and found a way to make his mark in coverage rather than as a pass rusher. For the Bengals, Lawson will play Strong-Side LB. In the Zimmer's defense, He will be asked to play first and second downs for the majority of his snaps. Lawson will have to cover the TE (His strength) and contain the edge in the running game. If he can do this, Manny Lawson is an upgrade at the position from previous seasons when Rey Maualuga was playing out of his natural position. Opposing TEs have hurt the Bengals in recent years. When the CBs were locking down their WR, but the pass rush wasn't enough, a QB like Ben Roethlisberger would find Heath Miller open for the first down. By covering TEs better this year, Manny Lawson should help the Bengals pass rush without actually helping to rush the passer.
Terms of Deal: 1 year for $3 million