Lawson finished the 2015-16 season with 59 total tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, and 12.5 sacks according to sports-reference.com. He played in every one of his 41 games over 3 years at Clemson. The Clemson stand-out edge defender uses his hands well, and provides a good burst off the ball. He is able to win against an Offensive Tackle on a speed rush, he sets the edge well in the run game, Tight Ends are unable to block him 1-on-1, and he excels at keeping his shoulders square and squeezing down the line on run plays. Most importantly, he is a big time playmaker.
In an interview with the NFL Network, Lawson said that he's just as comfortable with his hand in the dirt as he is in the stand-up Linebacker position he was often asked to play at Clemson. He also said he's comfortable when dropping into pass coverage and that he dropped into said pass coverage 3 to 4 times a game. The word I would use to describe Shaq Lawson's pass coverage is "capable". Daniel Jeremiah of the NFL Network pointed out that he loves the effort that Lawson is able to bring on every play. According to data collected by Pro Football Focus, he had the second-highest run defense grade among edge defenders, and he only missed one tackle all year.
Pro Football Focus mentioned that Lawson "played on a stacked Clemson defensive line that pushed a handful of cleanup sacks his way" in their scouting report. When discussing Lawson on the NFL Matchup Show Merril Hoge pointed out that Lawson tends to lay his weight on people, and doesn't produce much explosion. One negative that was looming over Lawson at the NFL Combine was the health of his shoulder, but that negativity was cleared up at the medical re-checks held in Indianapolis last week according to Ian Rapoport:
Pro Football Focus compared him to James Harrison, and I think that is a very apt comparison considering their strengths in rushing the passer and also defending the run. I like to compare him to Dwight Freeney as a pass rusher because of Lawson's use of the spin move, which I'm sure was developed in part by watching film of Freeney's patented move.
Sports with Jim Film Room
This is the spin move I was referencing earlier in the Freeney comparison. Lawson was going up against Ronnie Stanley in this game, and made the possible top 10 pick look silly on a few occasions including this one. (video courtesy: tigerray on Youtube)
Here you can see Lawson begin the possession by running up the field on a speed rush, then whips out his trusty inside spin move to provide the pressure on DeShone Kizer.
Even when his patented spin move is handled by the Offensive Tackle, he still provides enough power to push the lineman into the Quarterback providing another pressure. This play shows that Lawson has the effort to keep with the play, and the awareness to keep his head up that will be necessary at the NFL level.
In this clip, Lawson shows his play recognition ability, his incredible pad level to beat the pulling Guard, and finishes it all off with an impressive hit on the Quarterback.
This play is very similar to the play above in the UNC game, except Kizer pulls it down to run instead. Lawson again proves that Guards are going to have a rough time trying to kick him out on a pull because of his good technique and pad level.
This play is an example of Lawson's supreme run defense on the edge. The great technique and leverage shown here is probably why he was Pro Football Focus's 2nd-rated run defender from the edge.
This play against Boston College shows that Lawson isn't afraid to mix it up in the inside run game. He shows an ability to sift through blocks that is crucial in defending the run. I can see how people would say that Lawson is often a beneficiary of a stellar Clemson defensive line as Christian Wilkins blows up this play from the middle, but it still takes talent to sift through those blocks in a quick manner and to tackle the Running Back for a 5 yard loss like Lawson does on this play.
An underrated attribute that Lawson possesses is his above-average speed. He ran a 4.7 40 yard dash at the combine, and shows on this play that he is able to cover a lot of ground running sideline to sideline. This quality will be useful in pass coverage on a play like the one above, and on outside run plays if he is lined up at the stand-up Outside Linebacker position.
Mock Draft Database
Adam Stites' article for SB Nation contains an enormous mock draft database that collects data from hundreds of mock drafts and determines the percentage of where each mock draft mocks a player. The data will continue to be updated all the way until draft day, so keep up with it here. I went ahead and searched for where the mock drafts included would be taking Shaq Lawson and here are the results:
4. Cowboys 3%
5. Jaguars 1%
9. Buccaneers 16.2%
10. Giants 7.1%
11. Bears 10.1%
12. Saints 15.2%
13. Dolphins 9.1%
16. Lions 3%
17. Falcons 12.1%
18. Colts 3%
19. Bills 3%
I would be surprised if Lawson went in the top 5, but the Buccaneers are a very intriguing option at 9. Having him line up across the field from newly-signed Robert Ayers, and next to stud Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy would definitely improve that defense immediately. There are many good situations for Lawson among this list of possible suitors, and it looks like he's going to receive a pretty sizable payday wherever he ends up. I'll end this article by asking you what uniform you would like to see Shaq Lawson wearing next year as an NFL rookie? I'd love to hear your selections and rationale, so you can tweet your choice to me @sportswithjim or leave it in the comment section.