With the vast network of team specific sites on SB Nation, we decided to reach out to some of the teams that now former Clemson players will be playing for in the NFL. Today we had a chance to talk with Brian from Buffalo Rumblings, the SB Nation Buffalo Bills site. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about Shaq Lawson and how he will fit in with the Bills.
BR: Lawson's name had been connected to the Bills by pretty much everyone who follows the team for months, for a plethora of reasons both obvious and not as apparent. The obvious ones: the team needed a pass-rushing upgrade, Lawson is a versatile enough athlete to play in a hybrid defense, and Rex Ryan's connections to the Clemson program are well-established. Seeing the Bills pick Lawson felt more like an inevitability than anything else. It was fairly obvious that the team liked him a great deal. My personal reaction was to publish the pre-written article on the Bills selecting Lawson, then quietly fist-pump as the networks talked the pick up.
BR: We run approval polls for all of the draft picks the Bills make, right as they happen. 88 percent of Buffalo Rumblings readers approved of the Bills' pick of Lawson; in the 10 drafts that we have covered, that's the second-highest approval rating a Bills first-round pick has garnered in our community, trailing only Marcell Dareus in 2011. The immediate approval has likely only strengthened as Lawson has made the media rounds, and fans have started to see what an engaging personality he has.
BR: The immediate expectation was set by the Bills' general manager, Doug Whaley, when he announced Lawson as a full-time starter for the team just minutes after drafting him. Playing a high volume of snaps is burden enough for any NFL rookie, but the hope is that Lawson will spearhead efforts to improve a pass rush that plummeted to a franchise-low 21 sacks last season after back-to-back, 50-plus sack seasons in 2013 and 2014. Lawson also has the burden of replacing former No. 1 overall pick Mario Williams in the starting lineup, so he'll likely have to fight off that comparison while trying to adjust to the pro game, as well.
BR: I'd lean more in the direction of the embrace than hesitance, because Buffalo's front office had a pre-existing infatuation with Clemson, and ACC schools in general (they've drafted heavily from Florida State, too), even before Ryan's arrival. The Bills were likely going to think highly of Lawson even before factoring Ryan's opinion into the mix; Ryan's sign-off only strengthens the argument for placing Lawson high on the board.
BR: Well, this potential shoulder surgery thing is definitely something to monitor. Lawson has denied that he'll need surgery after the season, but it's fair to wonder if that lingering issue might hinder his productivity and development as a rookie. If we're factoring health out of the equation, though, I'm more worried about coaching turnover than anything; Whaley and Ryan are under a lot of pressure to end Buffalo's 16-year playoff drought as soon as possible, and if they can't, it would not be shocking to see ownership continue their trend of changing the coaching staff. As an example: Dareus, the first-round pick in 2011 who is a two-time Pro Bowl player and a 2014 All-Pro selection, reached those heights despite playing under a different defensive coordinator in each of his first five seasons. Hopefully, Lawson will not have the same fate, as unlike Dareus, he'd be asked to switch positions routinely in that scenario.
BR: I tend to focus more on the year-to-year; I'm a Bills fan, so it's more practical for my psyche to think short-term, rather than dream big only to see the dreams crushed. Year one, I'm hoping to see Lawson play a healthy 70 percent of snaps at a consistent level, adapt comfortably to a more diverse role in which he'll play multiple positions and even drop into coverage on occasion, and chip in 6-8 sacks while freeing up Jerry Hughes on the other side. That would constitute a highly successful rookie season for Lawson, in my book, and he'd be able to grow from there, as well.