The Buffalo Bills selected EDGE Defender Shaq Lawson out of Clemson with the No. 19 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. While some may see the Bills/Clemson connection as part of the reasoning behind the selection, make no mistake about it—Shaq Lawson is an ideal fit for a Rex Ryan defense. Let’s take a look at what Lawson brings to the Buffalo Bills, from his positional versatility, traits and athletic ability.
Shaq Lawson Background
Shaq Lawson was a rotational player for much of his first two seasons with the Clemson Tigers behind 2015 first-round pick Vic Beasley. In those two seasons, Lawson recorded 51 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. In the 2015 season, Lawson burst onto the scene as a full-time starter and was one of the most dominant edge rushers in college football, leading the nation in tackles for loss with 25.5, adding 60 tackles (36 against the run) and 12.5 sacks. He generated 49 quarterback pressures and missed just one tackle on the season.
Standing 6’3” and weighing 270 pounds, Shaq Lawson has a well-built and bulky frame similar to that of a Terrell Suggs or Ziggy Ansah. At Clemson, he played primarily on the right side of the defensive formation in a two-point stance on most base downs, but he also played as a base end and would often kick inside to the five-technique (3-4 defensive end, head-up over the tackle) or the three-technique (4-3 under defensive tackle, between the guard and tackle) in nickel or sub-packages.
Many analysts questioned Lawson’s athletic ability leading up to the combine, as he was responsible for being a “read” defender and played a lot of contain against the option offenses Clemson faced, so there were concerns about his burst. However, at the NFL Scouting Combine, Lawson shined, running a 4.7 40-yard dash, posted fantastic agility numbers for his size with a 7.16-second three-cone and a 4.21 short-shuttle, while posting a 33” vertical leap and a 10’ broad jump.
Shaq Lawson Pass Rush Ability
Shaq Lawson didn’t record 20 career sacks on accident and he got after the quarterback in a variety of ways. Whether it was by quickness, power or just sheer effort, Lawson had a knack for getting after the quarterback—as noted by his 29 knockdowns which was fourth in the nation.
Most edge rushers coming into the league have gotten by with either a speed rush or a bullrush, but Shaq Lawson already is advanced in terms of counter moves and hand usage when his initial rush isn’t there. He’s got ridiculous change-of-direction ability that made him lethal on inside-counter moves. You can see this ability in the following play against the Miami Hurricanes.
Against Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley who was selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Shaq Lawson shows off an impressive inside spin move. Stanley couldn’t re-direct and was forced to tackle Lawson to the ground, drawing a flag.
He’s got speed off the edge and the flexibility to turn the corner and re-direct himself to the quarterback so he rarely gets washed out of plays. Against North Carolina, he shows this explosion and bend to turn the corner and sack the quarterback, forcing a fumble in the process.
Lawson is extremely quick and uses his agility to make pulling linemen whiff, as he does before recording a sack here.
In addition to the finesse moves highlighted above, Shaq Lawson has a powerful bullrush that will put an opposing lineman on skates, as highlighted in the clip below.
He also has ability to bully opposing lineman with his powerful and violent hands. He doesn’t have the longest arms, but you can tell he’s been coached will and uses his hands to disengage from blockers and make plays. In the National Championship game, he beats left tackle Cam Robinson—a likely top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft—with a long arm move around the edge before sacking quarterback Jacob Coker.
The best part about Shaq Lawson is the effort he gives on every snap, which Buffalo Bills fans will appreciate after Mario Williams’ 2015 campaign. He plays through the whistle and will hustle his way to the ball, even if the play isn’t in his direction. This relentlessness shows up against North Carolina where he’s able to assist in making a stop at the line of scrimmage.
Shaq Lawson Run Support
Against the run, Shaq Lawson is a dominant force. He’s got the lower body strength to hold his ground against double-teams and uses solid hand technique to shed blocks while showing the mental processing ability to make a play.
Against Miami, Lawson is lined up as the five-technique over the left tackle as a two-gap defender. At the snap he takes on the tackle and the left guard attempts to reach block him. Lawson is able to stay low, use his hands to get off the block and make a play in the backfield.
Here’s another play showcasing Lawson’s great hand technique, this time lined up as an interior defensive lineman.
Here against North Carolina, Lawson is lined up as a traditional defensive end. At the snap, Lawson shoots his hands into the chest of the left tackle and the sheer force causes him to get stood up. Without hesitation, Lawson continues his pursuit into the backfield and brings down the running back.
He’ll use his length and power to set the edge and bully tight ends or linemen against the run and force the running back to cut back inside.
Against Miami he shows his strength again, crashing his way down the offensive line, allowing his teammates to swarm to the ball.
He’s quick enough to avoid pulling linemen, as he shows here against an option run by Notre Dame.
Shaq Lawson Coverage Ability
Mario Williams made it clear that he did not like dropping into coverage two times per game last season, but Shaq Lawson frequently did so at Clemson. In Rex Ryan’s hybrid scheme, he runs some zone blitzes that will require a defensive lineman to drop. It’s not an every-down thing, and Lawson certainly wasn’t drafted to drop into coverage, but there are times when he’ll need to and he possesses the athleticism to do so.
Here, he drops and picks up the crossing route.
He’s got the speed to chase down running backs in man coverage to the flats as well.
Shaq Lawson is a fantastic player that fits just what the Buffalo Bills defense needs—a versatile player that can play multiple positions depending on the front or personnel package they’re in. He’s a day one starter that has the skills to be a force against both the run and pass, while having the athleticism to drop into shallow coverage when needed. He’s a fun and talented player to watch and the 22-year old should be an impact player on a defense that lacked one last season.