When the Cincinnati Bengals selected Carl Lawson with the 116th pick in the 2017 NFL Draft the club selected not only a great player but a player with the potential to become something great at the NFL level. Coming out of high school, Lawson was considered one of the top five-star recruits in the nation due to his size and unique proficiency for rushing the quarterback. Unfortunately, a series of injuries in college slowed his progress at the college level. But, an impressive performance in 2016 showed he is still very talented and can harness his abilities to make a huge impact on defense.
Lawson’s standout 2016 season was a huge relief for his hopes at the NFL level, as he was previously on pace to be forgotten by NFL scouts, never giving him the chance to boost his family’s legacy. His father, a championship-winning fullback for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, helped train him into a great football player. Today, the younger Lawson is paying it back by adding to the legacy.
“We’re switching on and off. My plan is to carry on the Lawson legacy as best I can,” Lawson told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “One, he was a great father. And then the added bonus he helped me out with football and athletics.”
A great way to become a strong player and live up to that legacy is to truly love the game of football. In Lawson’s case, that involves a pure, unbridled love for rushing the quarterback.
“It’s almost like an art form,” Lawson said. “I study it, watch it all the time. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Where most players see rushing the passer as a secondary aspect to playing their position, Lawson sees it as the very reason he plays football. For him, a solid pass rush is an absolutely vital part of the game. Instead of seeing it as the simple process of bringing the quarterback down, Lawson sees it as a complex system for disrupting every play.
“Rushing the passer is not always about getting sacks,” Lawson told Mike Hartsock of the Dayton Daily News. “It’s being able to affect the quarterback and make him move his feet, make him throw off balance, just anything to disrupt the passing attack. It’s a critical part of the game.”
For that reason, Lawson has always made it a point to learn pass rushing techniques from the best. He has directly worked with two former Bengals players - Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes. Anderson’s career was based around preventing the pass rush, but Spikes’ primary focus was bringing down the ball carrier in the backfield.
“I haven’t really gotten too many tips yet, but just [as a] role model, what type of person he is, how he carries himself,” Lawson said of how Spikes has influenced him. “I’ve known him since I was 11 years old, got a training workout with him. I see him doing a lot of media things now. That means he was a great Bengal, a great NFL football player on whatever team he was.”
In addition to what he learned from working with Spikes, working with Anderson seems like a smart choice. What better way to figure out how to beat a pass blocker than to ask one of the best pass blockers of his era? Not to mention, after working with Lawson, Anderson felt confident enough in his ability to vouch for him when the Bengals were considering selecting him.
“We can’t base things off of a guy’s appraisal,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “But, that’s great that Willie felt good about it and that makes us feel good. I told Willie he was our target, and it worked out.”
It certainly did work out, and at the start of the fourth round of the draft, the Bengals found an edge rusher with a profound love for rushing the quarterback.
“It’s a thing of beauty just to watch somebody else on film do something cool,” Lawson said. “Not only am I studying it, I get to enjoy what I do. That’s a great part of football. Not only is it your job, but you also enjoy your job. Not many people have that.”
You don’t see that level of excitement, pride, and commitment to a player’s craft often. It makes you wonder how much Lawson could have thrived at Auburn were it not for injuries and where he would have potentially gone in the draft under different circumstances. One thing is certain, the Bengals should be excited about the addition of Lawson to the roster.