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Carl Lawson has been the Bengals’ under-the-radar defensive lineman

The Bengals have had several newcomers step up in a big way along the defensive line this season.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive line is highlighted by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. That is as far as most casual fans get when it comes to the Bengals defensive line.

The Bengals have plenty of linemen this season who have been doing their part. That’s partly because they have been more open to rotating linemen this season, and it has paid dividends as several young players have been showing off their talents. It has also shown the Bengals’ fans that the future is bright up front defensively.

Cincinnati has two other linemen who has quietly been announcing themselves to the NFL. Fans may know these guys, but the casual fan is about to get introduced to them. It is hard to pick just one of them, so I had to throw out an honorable mention first.

Honorable mention: Chris Smith

Smith came to the Bengals in the offseason via a trade with the Jaguars. Many didn’t think anything of it, and after the Bengals drafted Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis, it didn’t seem like Smith had much of a chance at making the Bengals roster.

How wrong we were. He made his presence known all throughout the preseason, and quickly became a player the Bengals had to keep. He provided constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks almost every time he was out there.

Smith doesn’t see the field too much during the regular season. He gets most of his snaps when Michael Johnson or Dunlap need a breather. More recently the Bengals have even played him a defensive tackle.

Even though he doesn’t play a lot he makes his presence known when he is out there. Two weeks ago against his former team he forced a fumble early in the game. Last week he sacked Marcus Mariota, and he also played the quarterback option perfectly. He was the last man between Mariota getting at least a 10 yard gain, and he made an excellent open field tackle.

Hopefully Smith will be back with the team next season with a bigger role.

Bengals’ under the radar defensive lineman: Carl Lawson

I’m sure Bengals fans know about how Lawson has been tearing through the NFL, but the average fan does not. Lawson has 5.5 sacks this season, and he was even named to Pro Football Focus’ Mid-Season All-Rookie Team.

Like Smith Lawson isn’t on the field a majority of the snaps. The flow of the game really determines when the Bengals can unleash him. Because of his size and still being a rookie, he is a liability against the running game. The team can really only play him during obvious passing downs.

And while the Bengals’ list Lawson as a linebacker, he’s effectively a defensive end. He rarely drops into coverage, and he’s almost always the fourth down lineman on passing downs when he’s in.

When he does play though he is an unstoppable force. Here are some examples:

Lawson already looks like a seasoned vet getting after the quarterback. Still the fact he can’t play during running downs hurts, but hopefully with a couple more seasons he can be out there all the time. The more the Bengals have Dunlap, Atkins and Lawson on the field the better they are.