The Buffalo Bills announced a bit of news Monday afternoon that sent shock waves throughout the NFL, particularly the AFC East and all of Bills nation.
After selecting EDGE rusher Shaq Lawson with the 19th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, general manager Doug Whaley was adamant that everything was fine with the shoulder that has aggravated Lawson since his freshman season at Clemson.
However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Buffalo’s first-rounder re-aggravated his shoulder while practicing a swim move on a tackling bag during rookie minicamp, and the team’s medical staff decided to correct the problem now instead of putting off the inevitable.
The 6-foot-3, 270-pound pass rusher had “very successful” surgery in New York City on Tuesday, and the Bills are hopeful to have Lawson back in the fold sooner rather than later.
But, as of now, reports say that he is still expected to miss the first four or five games of the regular season, which is surely not what Whaley, Rex Ryan and owners Terry and Kim Pegula had in mind when they scooped up the rapidly falling Clemson Tiger on April 28.
Lawson was supposed to be a “Day 1 starter” for Buffalo along with fellow rookies Reggie Ragland and Adolphus Washington.
And while the Central, S.C., native will eventually step into that starting role, the Bills will have to find a way to fill the void in the meantime.
Who will replace Lawson as the team’s starter at strong-side linebacker, and how does it affect the rest of the roster beyond that?
The answers to those questions are yet to be determined.
However, for now, here are three players who will be directly affected by the recent news of Shaq Lawson’s surgery.
Three Players Put On Notice
Manny Lawson has been a solid addition to Buffalo’s roster since joining the team via free agency in 2013 when he signed a four-year, $12 million deal.
However, after racking up 73 tackles (52 solo, 21 assists), four sacks, one forced fumble and one interception in his first season with the Bills, Lawson’s production has dipped.
The former first-round pick has totaled just 67 tackles (20 in ’14 and 47 in ’15) over the past two seasons, and one can only wonder if age is catching up with the soon to be 32-year-old.
Nevertheless, Lawson played plenty of snaps in Rex Ryan’s defense last season and even took over the on-field play-calling duties for Preston Brown late in the year.
With the latest news of Shaq Lawson’s surgery, the other Lawson, Manny, will have plenty of opportunities to get on the field once again this year, particularly early in the season as he appears to be the odds-on favorite to start opposite Jerry Hughes, meaning he would reclaim the strong-side linebacker position he held last season.
The 10-year veteran has big expectations to live up to, though, and he must provide a pass rush as well as solid run defense if he wants to hold down the starting role while Buffalo’s first-rounder recovers.
The Bills had high hopes for Shaq Lawson, who tallied 50 total pressures in 760 snaps for the Clemson Tigers last season while also boasting the second-best run defense grade in the 2016 draft class behind only Joey Bosa according to Pro Football Focus, so Manny Lawson has to find a way to produce more, particularly as a pass rusher, despite notching just 24.5 sacks in his career.
It will be interesting to see how the savvy veteran looks in training camp and the preseason.
Randell Johnson has been a case of potential over production during his first two seasons in Buffalo. Coming out of Florida Atlantic in 2014, little was known about the seventh-rounder who racked up 195 total tackles (104 solo, 91 assists), 30.5 tackles for loss and nine-and-a-half sacks during his four-year collegiate career.
However, one thing was known for certain about the former Owl —he was athletic.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 245 pounds, Johnson ran a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash at his pro day along with a 10-foot broad jump and a 38.5-inch vertical. His wingspan also measured a shade over 34 inches.
Despite putting up those numbers and showing fluidity dropping into coverage during drills leading up to the draft, the 25-year-old linebacker has yet to translate his athleticism to the playing field in the NFL.
Riddled by injuries thus far in his professional career, Johnson has appeared in just 15 games in two seasons and has spent most of his time on special teams, tallying seven tackles along the way. He totaled just six tackles last year before finishing the season on Injured Reserve after suffering a high ankle sprain in Buffalo’s Week 15 loss to Washington.
Assuming he is fully healthy heading into OTAs, Randell Johnson should get plenty of chances to show he’s grown as a player this spring.
While he is smaller than Shaq Lawson (6-3, 270) in terms of weight, Johnson’s 40-time and vertical jump were better than Lawson’s, and his broad jump was identical. Johnson’s wingspan is also nearly two inches longer.
With that said, there’s no doubt that the former Florida Atlantic standout has the measurables Buffalo is looking for at the strong-side linebacker position.
It’s now up to Johnson to put all of the pieces together and finally contribute on a larger scale, particularly on defense.
Opportunity is knocking at the door, and if he doesn’t take it then he might just be on his way out of Buffalo and possibly the NFL altogether.
Claimed by the Bills off of Dallas’ practice squad in December, Lavar Edwards has been a well-traveled man during his first three seasons in the league.
Drafted out of LSU by Tennessee in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Edwards has spent time with the Titans, Raiders, Bears, Cowboys and Bills thus far in his career, appearing in just 12 games and racking up 10 tackles and one pass breakup along the way.
Despite his lack of on-field appearances, Edwards has plenty of traits to like from a coach’s perspective.
Stuck behind Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery during his time at LSU, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive lineman/outside linebacker managed to tally 96 total tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks and two interceptions in four seasons, including 26 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four-and-a-half sacks in his senior year.
Following his final collegiate season, the former Tiger displayed solid athleticism at the NFL Combine and at his pro day, posting a 4.77 in the 40-yard dash, a 33-inch vertical and a 9-foot-11-inch broad jump.
Combining those traits with impressive size, Edwards doesn’t just rely on pure athleticism to get by —he gives relentless effort.
Possessing a great motor, Edwards is a powerful player who uses his heavy hands to shed, disengage and chase down the ball-carrier with solid lateral speed.
When rushing the passer, the Baton Rouge, La., native is able to get after opposing quarterbacks even without any real speed moves as he uses his strength and long, 35-and-a-half-inch arms to push the pocket back into the quarterback.
While he failed to get on the field for the Bills in his short-time with the team last season, Edwards is certainly in the mix for the few reserve outside linebacker positions behind Jerry Hughes, Manny Lawson and Shaq Lawson (when healthy).
Edwards is similar to Buffalo’s 2016 first-rounder both athletically and in stature, so there’s no doubt that Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman will look to see if they can get any production out of the former LSU Tiger while Shaq Lawson is on the shelf.
With the ability to also kick inside and play with his hand in the dirt, Lavar Edwards should have a chance at sticking around this season due to his versatility and effort on the field, which was something that was greatly lacking from some members of the Bills’ defense last season.
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