Carl Lawson was easily one of the biggest bright spots for the Bengals in 2017.
The fourth-round pick via Auburn had a very productive rookie season that’s paved the way for a bright NFL future. Appearing in all 16 games (1 start), Lawson recorded 16 total tackles and 8.5 sacks, one shy of the Bengals rookie record previously set by Carlos Dunlap (9.5).
For his efforts, Lawson was named to the 2018 Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team.
Prior to the 2017 NFL Draft, Lawson was someone hyped up as a second-round prospect that could possibly sneak into the end of Round 1. However, Lawson’s injury history in college, along with his tweener frame, led to him slipping all the way into Round 4.
That’s where the Bengals scooped him up, and they wound up getting a first-round talent who showcased as much as a rookie.
So, what’s next for Lawson?
Head coach Marvin Lewis told Bengals.com that the plan for Lawson is to become more involved in Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme.
“I think in Teryl’s vision, he sees the opportunity to utilize Carl more in the base defense than what we did with Paul,” Lewis said. “It goes back to where I was in Baltimore. Those are the things we feel good about. That involves Carl’s abilities in the base defense.”
Using Lawson in a base defense as a 4-3 defensive end is something the Bengals absolutely need to do going forward. For most of his rookie season, Lawson was more of a situational player that was used primarily on passing downs, though he did get more work in as a full-time defensive end as the season wore on.
With Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap still in the fold, they’ll probably remain the starting defensive ends this year, but Lawson absolutely should be getting more run at both spots in his sophomore year.
Saying this, there was good reason why Lawson was used almost exclusively as a pass-rusher. He finished 2017 with the 20th-best pass-rushing grade (83.9) among edge defenders (4-3 defensive ends and 3-4 outside linebackers).
However, Lawson’s run defense grade (44.9) was among the worst of any edge defender in 2017.
Now to be fair, that was partly because Lawson had such a small sample size in run defense. According to PFF, 389 of Lawson’s 477 total snaps in 2017 were in pass-rushing situations. He logged only 72 snaps in run defense, so we rarely got a chance to see how well he could consistently hold up against the run.