Few envisioned the former All-SEC pass-rusher falling into Day 3 of the draft, let alone a team like Cincinnati grabbing him with the 116th overall pick. That’s exactly what happened, and the Bengals hope to reap the benefits of landing what some believed was a Round 1-caliber prospect.
In fact, NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks believes Lawson is a darkhorse contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Awards.
THE SLEEPER PICK: Carl Lawson, DE, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals might've snagged the best-kept secret at the edge rusher position when they selected Lawson with the No. 116 overall pick. The 6-2, 261-pound power player has a rugged game built on brute strength and physicality, yet he also flashes enough quickness and agility to win with finesse from a two- or three-point stance. On a defense that's looking for a player with juice off the edge, Lawson's combination of athleticism and pass-rush skills could help him carve out a role as a designated pass rusher and deliver enough sack production to crack the top-10 list.
While it’s nice to see Lawson drawing this kind of praise, it’s very hard to see him being a true contender for this award. It’s an honor that almost always goes to starting players who are around the ball often, like linebackers or defensive tackles.
Lawson may be listed as a linebacker, but he’s essentially a defensive end who’s only going to be on the field for obvious passing downs, at least as a rookie. He may be able to get 5-8 sacks and 30-40 tackles as a rookie, but that’s not the kind of line that wins DROY.
And frankly, the line I just mentioned is probably the best kind of production we can expect from Lawson. More than likely, he’ll have a similar line to what Michael Johnson had as rookie, flirting with defensive end and outside linebacker in 2008. That year saw Johnson record 11 tackles, three sacks and five pass defenses.
I think that’s the kind of statistics we’ll see out of Lawson this year, especially for a Bengals team that brings rookies along painfully slow. Lawson is probably in for a transition year as a rookie, but don’t let that cloud what looks to be a bright future for the former Auburn stud.