The Bengals are officially killing this draft.
Cincinnati’s latest steal came in Round 4 when the team got Auburn Tigers defensive end Carl Lawson, a prospect who many experts expected to go late in the first round or early on Day 2. However, health concerns scared enough teams off that he was able to land in Day 3.
No matter. As long as Lawson can play for the duration of his rookie contract, he’ll make a major impact for the Bengals.
What Lawson Brings To Bengals:
Pass-rushers was the Bengals’ biggest position of need heading into this draft, and rushing the passer is Lawson’s specialty. This past season, Lawson accounted for 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Per Pro Football Focus, Lawson averaged a sack, hit or hurry once every 5.4 pass rushing attempts in 2016.
While shorter than NFL teams would prefer for an edge rusher, Lawson's compact build makes him a difficult blocking assignment for opposing linemen. He uses his smaller 6’2”, 261-pound frame to get under bigger lineman and also beat them off the edge with his great burst off the line.
Lawson can also line up and rush inside, something the Bengals like their edge rushers to do occasionally. Per PFF, Lawson created pressure on 40 percent of his rushes in between the tackles.
He’s also respectable enough against the run that there’s a chance he could eventually develop into a full-time defensive end in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense, though he’ll be a situational pass-rusher early in his pro career.
How Lawson Fits in on defense
Because Lawson is undersized at 6’2”, he’ll have a tough time becoming a full-time defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Most experts expected him to join a 3-4 defensive team that would allow him to thrive off the edge but not have his hand down on the line against far bigger offensive tackles.
But we’ve seen plenty of undersized pass-rushers use their lack of size to get under and round bigger, slower tackles with ease. Lawson has a good chance of becoming a solid defensive end in this defense, and it’s possible he sees occasional snaps at outside linebacker.
I expect Lawson to get most of his rookie snaps as a nickel defensive end and occasionally get some defensive tackle snaps on obvious passing downs. He’s shown he can make an impact rushing from the tackle’s outside shoulder and on the interior against slower guards.
Why The Pick Makes Sense:
This pick made too much sense for the Bengals. Even with his health concerns, Lawson should give the Bengals some good years during his rookie contract, and on Day 3, that’s about all you can hope for.
As long as Lawson gets the same amount of snaps that Will Clarke, Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt were getting last year, he should produce more sacks and consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Even with the Bengals drafting Jordan Willis, Lawson is too good of a pass-rusher to not have a nice role with this team in 2017. Those two could very well end up being the team’s third and fourth-best pass-rushers behind Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
What was a major weakness for this team suddenly looks like it will now become a strength in 2017.