“I am going to try to prove them wrong.”
It is a common refrain sung by every athlete in every sport when they feel like they were drafted long after than they should have been.
But for Carl Lawson, these are more than just words. They form the basis for a crusade that has vaulted him to the top of the NFL at his position, and earned him a spot on the 2017 Mid-Season Pro Football Focus NFL All-Rookie Team.
“I felt like I got totally disrespected in the draft,” Lawson said after the Bengals selected him in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft with pick No. 116.
“I watch everyone else. I know how good I was. Even as better as I’ve gotten, there’s still no reason I feel … a player … should have got drafted over me. My whole career and time God blesses with me I’m going to go out there and try to prove it. About 20 people drafted ahead of me were pass rushers. You’ve got to feel disrespected. If you don’t then that means you don’t really have pride as a football player.”
Actually, there were 11 defensive ends and seven outside linebackers drafted before Lawson, who is listed as an outside linebacker with the Bengals, but his played exclusively at right defensive end in obvious passing situations.
PFF recognized Lawson for a first half that included 4.5 sacks and 35 total pressures of the quarterback, a number which places him in a tie for fifth among all 4-3 defensive ends. Lawson leads the league in pressures by edge rushers from the right side.
In addition, Lawson has a pass-rushing productivity, as determined by PFF, of 15.1, which is third-best in the league behind only Denver’s Von Miller and Miami’s Cameron Wake.
Pass-rushing productivity is a stat that gauges what percentage of pass-rushing plays results in either a sack, hit or hurry on the quarterback. Since 2012, the best season by a rookie in that category was Joey Bosa of the San Diego Chargers, the No. 3 overall pick last year. Bosa finished at 12.9 percent and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
But what about all of those names drafted ahead of him?
Players drafted ahead of Carl Lawson
|Drafted Defensive Ends|
|Drafted Defensive Ends|
|Drafted Outside Linebackers|
Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, battled injuries early in his career, but has responded with four sacks in the three games he has been able to play, all as a starter.
After being shut out in his first four games as a starter for the San Francisco 49ers, Solomon Thomas has recorded four sacks over his last four games. Thomas played defensive tackle in college. Derek Barnett has logged 2.5 sacks for the Philadelphia Eagles in backup duties. Takkarist McKinley has two sacks for the Falcons.
Taco Charlton has a single sack for the Cowboys in a backup role and DeMarcus Walker, who, like Lawson, was moved to an outside linebacker position, has yet to record a sack for the Denver Broncos. Tanoh Kpassagnon has only played in one game as an outside linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs and has not recorded a sack.
Dawuane Smoot is a backup with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has yet to record his first sack. Jordan Willis, Lawson’s line mate with the Bengals who was selected a round ahead of him, has one sack in a back-up role to Pro Bowler Carlos Dunlap and Daeshon Hall played in one game for the Carolina Panthers before getting injured.
Charles Harris was drafted as an outside linebacker by the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft and was quickly moved to defensive end. He has recorded a sack in limited action.
T.J. Watt has proven to be an outstanding first-round pick-up by the Pittsburgh Steelers, and has four sacks so far this year. Tyus Bowser has two sacks and an interception as a starter for the Baltimore Ravens, while Ryan Anderson has seen very little action for the Washington Redskins.
Tim Williams has been struggling with injuries and has seen very little playing time for the Ravens while Derek Rivers, who was moved to defensive end by the Patriots, has yet to get on the field. Vince Biegel was only recently activated off of the physically unable to perform list by the Green Bay Packers and has played in only one game.
So far this season, Lawson has managed to outperform each of the edge rushers drafted before him. But he is not satisfied with that.
“My main goal is to play good for my team,” he said. “And my biggest thing is to get respect from other players. That’s what the draft was about for me. It wasn’t about money or status. More respect from everybody else. That’s the goal. Respect.”