Carl Lawson has been gaining a lot of respect so far this season due to his excellent play. First the Bengals rookie pass rusher made Pro Football Focus’ Mid-Season All-Rookie Team. Now he is in the discussion for one of the top 10 rookies so far this season, according to ESPN’s draft expert Mel Kiper.
Kiper ranked the top 25 rookies through Week 10 and Lawson ranked sixth.
6. Carl Lawson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
Previously ranked: 6 | Final 2017 Big Board rank: 52 | Where he was drafted: 116
Lawson is playing only part time in the Bengals' pass-rushing rotation -- he has played 41.7 percent of defensive snaps so far -- but he's up to 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback knockdowns. A former five-star recruit, he missed a season-and-a-half at Auburn because of injuries and returned as a senior in 2016 with nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He could be a 10-sack-a-season guy if he stays healthy (which includes taking better care of his teeth). The 3-6 Bengals are out of the playoff picture, but they got a steal in the fourth round in Lawson.
When the Bengals drafted Lawson, we thought we were getting incredible value. Lawson was being talked about as a guy who could sneak up into the first round. Then he was the guy who lingered near the top of the best available section for what seemed like forever. So when the Bengals finally took him with their first of three fourth round picks, fans got pretty excited.
He has done nothing to damper that excitement since coming to Cincinnati. He quickly showed he was worth the hype as it seemed like all the training camp coverage was how about often he was getting to the quarterback in practice.
Now he leads all rookies with 5.5 sacks so far on the season. The most impressive part, which Kiper notes, is that he isn’t even playing a majority of the team’s snaps. He is just that efficient with his pass rush. The highlight of his short career has been his 2.5 sack performance against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 3, which was the first time the team really unleashed the linebacker/defensive end hybrid player. That game also could’ve featured 3.5 sacks from Lawson had the Bengals not had an extra player running to the sideline a second earlier. The penalty ended up wiping out the sack.
The only thing that seems to be holding Lawson back is his inability to really help against the run game. The team can’t throw him out there all the time because he is a liability against the run at this point in his career. Still he more than makes up for it by being one of the best pass rushers the Bengals have drafted since Carlos Dunlap. Watching him rush the passer makes you feel like he is a seasoned vet instead of a rookie in this league.
It is also interesting that Lawson is the highest ranked pass rusher on the ESPN ranking list. He is just ahead of T.J. Watt (7) and Myles Garrett (11). None of the other first round pass rushers even made the top 15. It seems like even though Marvin Lewis and company have screwed up this season, they really nailed the draft.
There is no doubt people will be talking about Lawson for years to come.