The Cincinnati Bengals are already getting great returns from their 2017 NFL Draft class.
Ironically, that includes virtually nothing from their top pick in John Ross, the ninth-overall pick, has played in just one game thus far.
However, Carl Lawson is making up for it by playing like a first-round pick and then some. Despite falling into the fourth round of this year’s draft, Lawson has easily been one of the best defensive rookies across the NFL.
Entering Week 5, Lawson is ranked 17th among edge rushers by Pro Football Focus (includes 4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers). He only has 2.5 sacks this season, but his pressure off the edge has been relentless, as he’s frequently is in the face of opposing quarterbacks.
Lawson has been so dominant that he’s in the running for the PFF Rookie of the Year:
PFF Grade: 83.2
Elite Stat: Lawson ranks fourth among all edge defenders with a 17.6 pass-rush productivity rating.
Lawson ranks 17th among all edge defenders in terms of overall grade and so far through four weeks, he’s treated opposing offensive lines the same way the Kool-aid man treats a wall. The rookie from Auburn now ranks second with a total of 22 pressures and even managed to beat Joe Thomas (who’s allowed just six total pressures all season) last week for two pressures.
The former Auburn Tigers star is a key reason why the Bengals enter Week 5 ranked fourth in passing scores allowed, tied for third in sacks and fourth in opponent completion percentage.
If you look at the Bengals’ defense as a whole, it’s mostly the same guys from last year’s team, which finished 19th in total sacks, 11th in passing scores allowed and 17th in opponent completion percentage.
Lawson isn’t the only reason why those numbers have improved, as this defense has a wealth of great players. However, they were missing that third consistent pass-rusher behind Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap last year, which kept what was a ‘good’ defense from being ‘elite.’ Just one more good player could have made it a truly special unit.
Lawson was that missing piece. Now that he’s here, this defense is back to being an elite unit that can go toe to toe with anyone.